SBN Staff

Wednesday, 25 October 2006 20:00

Jay Flatley

 When Jay Flatley had to choose between average, consistent growth or going for the big win, he chose the big “W.” A few years in to one of his previous start-ups, his company had captured 80 percent of a $60 million market and couldn’t grow at the rate he wanted. So he changed course and developed products to compete in larger markets. During that difficult path to success, he became a better leader, and those lessons stay with him today as president and CEO of Illumina Inc. The company, which creates treatments for diseases by studying variations of human genetics, posted $73.5 million in revenue last year and expects to hit $160 million for 2006. Smart Business spoke with Flatley about how he leads growth and motivates more than 500 employees.

Engage employees.
Many companies have ‘Mahogany Row.’ In those environments, employees become reluctant to interact with the management of the company, and that does a real disservice to the performance of any organization.

If the management is constantly in meetings and behind closed doors, that’s not very conducive to good communication and interaction. Being involved with employees and having open forums with employees is a key ingredient to success.

If employees see you’re engaged in and active in the business, they’ll do the same.

It’s important that the management of companies work hard, stay engaged and lead by example. I know a lot of CEOs who paint the vision and then go away and let other people execute it. The highest chance of success comes when the management team is fully engaged in executing the vision as well as painting the vision.

The worst thing is to have a CEO paint that vision and then spend 40 percent of the time in the office and the other 60 percent of the time on the golf course, letting everybody else make it happen. It’s critical that the CEO be engaged on a day-to-day basis and continue to evangelize what’s going to happen when we achieve success.

Hire good cultural fits.
We don’t compromise on our criteria for bringing new people into the company. One of the key tests for any new employee is, ‘Are they a good cultural fit?’ It’s critical, as we grow, that (the company’s) culture be maintained.

If you begin to compromise the process and begin to hire ‘B’ players, then the ‘B’ players will begin to hire ‘C’ players, and pretty soon you’ll find you regressed to the mean. ‘A’ players need to hire other ‘A’ players in order to keep us ahead of the competition and in order to have an aggregate work force that is significantly more skilled than our competitors in the industry.

Have a team involved in hiring.
While (the hiring manager) sort of makes the final call, they have to get input from many other people, and we do that in an interactive, open environment.

When people just send in a few notes about what happened in their interview, it’s very easy for a hiring manager to discard flags that may have come up in an effort to get a person in quickly. When you get those people together interactively, if someone brings up a flag about a person, then someone else may jump in and say, ‘I detected that, too, and I was a little concerned about that, now that you mentioned it.’

It’s a great way to have checks and balances on the hiring process. It certainly works on the negative side, but it also works to overcome flags. If somebody says, ‘Well, this flag came up for me,’ another person may jump in and say, ‘I saw that, too, but when I drilled into it, it was obvious why that wasn’t an issue.’

That controls the process and puts the power of group thinking into the hiring.

It’s cross-functional, and it’s typically at different levels. Anybody coming into the company, we would have a number of people at the next level interviewing them, but we also have peers — people they would be working with — interview them. In the case of managers, we actually have some of the people they would be managing (present during) the interview process.

There’s a recent book out called ‘The Wisdom of Crowds,’ and it speaks to the notion that people come to a process or task with very different sets of assumptions, goals and insights. The kind of thing a person the level above is thinking about may be very different than what a peer may be thinking about.

Having that diversity of viewpoint improves the value of the overall position.

Don’t depend on one person.
As a young start-up company you’re very dependent on particular people and personalities for success, but in developing a larger, more successful company, you need to have an infrastructure that is less — or not dependent at all — on individuals but is more self-sustaining.

One of the metrics of success as a company grows has to be, ‘Is the company sustainable?’ One measure of the sustainability of the company is that if any given person in that company wins the lottery or changes their mind about working every day, that the company can go forward with the plans that are consistent with the organization.

To get to that sustainability level, you have to create a structure that is increasingly independent of any given person. That doesn’t mean that individuals aren’t making phenomenal contributions because clearly they are, but what it does mean is you have ways of backstopping those individuals should the organization change in either planned or unplanned ways.

Have metrics.
They create focus, so it’s important that everybody understands what it is we’re trying tying to achieve. Once they know what the goal is, they can think about what’s the best way to get there.

Those goals are often aggressive, so it creates some out-of-the-box thinking. If you set a goal that’s simply step and repeat, say ‘Get 10 percent better at X,’ then people just think, ‘How can I just nudge something in one direction or another to make it 10 percent better?’ as opposed to setting aggressive goals that may be two or three better.

Then they have to stand back and think much more broadly about, ‘Is there a new way to approach the problem?’

HOW TO REACH: Illumina Inc.,

Tuesday, 24 October 2006 20:00

Gray Hall

 In 2003, Gray Hall faced a Catch-22 as president and CEO of VeriCenter Inc. He needed to raise more capital because the managed hosting service provider was struggling financially, but doing so would dilute management’s ownership. He felt stuck until Sprint Corp. presented an opportunity that he envisioned alleviating his company’s problems. Sprint was selling a portion of its business deemed not part of its core, but instead of looking for the highest dollar, it wanted to ensure its customers would be taken care of with the sale. Despite VeriCenter’s financial struggles, Hall was confident he could do it, so he plunged forward and won the deal. By thinking larger, the financial problems disappeared, and the company hit $60 million in revenue last year. Smart Business spoke with Hall about how he manages growth and empowers his 300 employees.

See the big picture.
Businesses are always going to have challenges and are always going to have problems. If you allow yourself to spend all your time just solving whatever problem is in front of you, you’re going to miss the opportunity to pursue a bigger opportunity that could eliminate all your problems.

Balance growth.
There is a risk in a fast-paced business that your operations become disjointed. You have teams making decisions on the fly. You’re moving quickly to keep up with the pace of the business and the pace of the market.

That’s a good thing in the sense that you want your people to be empowered and you want to keep that entrepreneurial culture that was key to your success in the early years going as you continue to grow as a business. At the same time, successful companies need to remain focused on what their core value proposition is and what their mission is and keep priorities in sync. That’s the balancing act.

Remain focused on your core.
It comes back to metrics. I got some really good advice early on that you get what you measure. It took a while for that to hit home for me. What that means in terms of what you do as a leader is rhetoric doesn’t have the power of measurements.

You can give speeches. You can write e-mails and memos and presentations. You can have counseling sessions. But in the end, that’s all rhetoric. It’s words intended to inspire people.

If you really want to influence behavior, the best way to do that is through metrics — specific goals that are measurable that you can assign to people. That’s part of empowerment.

People are not truly empowered unless they have the resources they need to get the job done, but also they’re told what success means. The best way to define success is by measurable, actionable, results-oriented targets that allow you to give people feedback and for people to measure themselves and how well they’re doing in hitting the goals you set for them.

If you stay disciplined about measuring how people are doing, that’s going to have a bigger impact on getting the results that you may want to achieve in your business than anything else you can do.

Empower employees.
You can’t do everything yourself. That seems to be a challenge for a lot of entrepreneurs.

A lot of entrepreneurs are strong, independent performers that are very good at delivering results on your own, but as your business scales, one person doesn’t scale. If you are on the critical path to results within your business, then ultimately you’re going to hit a ceiling in terms of how large your business can become.

The only way to break through that ceiling is to empower people to do the kinds of things you may have done yourself during the early days of the business.

Communicate your vision and goals.
It’s time-consuming to sit down and write an e-mail or craft a speech or put together a presentation. Mark Twain [is often credited with] having said, ‘I would have wrote you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have enough time.’

It takes time to boil down a message to the point that it’s digestible by the people that you’re trying to reach. As your company gets bigger, that gets more challenging because when you’re growing, everybody is busy.

In this interview right now, what you’re getting is a stream of consciousness response to your questions, but that’s not the most effective way to communicate to a company. I try to take the time to think about, what’s my message, who do I need to reach, what’s the most concise, impactful way to communicate it.

The actual communicating of the message is the easy part. It’s the preparation and the time that goes in to that that really makes it effective. Take the time to communicate.

Get buy-in when pioneering.
The biggest challenge that a pioneer has in a new industry segment is figuring out the recipe for success. If you’re starting a business in a sector that has a long history and has been around for decades, you can typically emulate other businesses that have been successful in that sector.

You can adopt the metrics that they’ve used. You can adopt their business processes. You can hire people who have worked in that sector.

But if you’re in a new sector that’s never been done before, you have to figure all that out yourself. It can be challenging. It can be frustrating for your employees. Employees often want to step in to a job where the goals are clear, the purpose is clear, what it means to be successful is clear from the outset.

We often ask our employees, ‘Help us figure out what the right set of metrics are for this particular situation.’ That’s part of being in an entrepreneurial situation. That’s not for everybody.

If you’re in a situation like that, it’s key when you interview employees to make the determination if that employee has the resolve to be passionate about the cause. If you can communicate to your employees what the mission of the business is, and that employee can get fired up about it that mission and say, ‘I get it. I understand what we’re trying to do, now I want to be a part of helping you figure out how to get there,’ then that employee is probably going to be successful in your business if they have the basic skills that are needed to perform the job.

How to reach: VeriCenter Inc.,

Thursday, 19 October 2006 20:00

David Haun

 When HADCO got too large and sold part of its business, David Haun had to readjust to being a more hands-on leader. Then as the company began growing again, he had to learn to let go and allow others to make decisions. As president and chief operating officer of the $100 million company that distributes, markets and services residential appliances, Haun is again facing the challenge of letting go as he approaches the age of 60, when he says one begins to think about succession and taking a smaller role in a business. Smart Business spoke with Haun about how he leads 135 employees through change by easing their fear of growth and empowering them.

Hire independent thinkers.
Hire good people, empower them and let them do their thing. I look for people who don’t necessarily always agree with me.

I look for people who have strength and conviction in what they believe, yet who are willing to, at the end of the day, go along with what the group decides.

Correct hiring errors.
There’s always a tendency to make the job fit the capabilities, but it usually ends up with having to replace the person. Try to give the person the benefit of the doubt.

You coach them, and you give them time to see if they grow in the job. Once you decide that they’re not going to, then you have to do something else.

A lot of times you find that there’s another position within the company that they’re more suited to. In the process of deciding that someone is not going to be able to do what you thought they could do, you see everybody has strengths and weaknesses. There aren’t any perfect people. In the process of identifying what they’re not capable of doing, you see what they are capable of, and a lot of times it turns out to suit the need better than the original one.

A lot of times it’s a get-out-of-jail free card for them because they’re not happy. Most people want to be successful in what they do. It’s more of a driver than compensation is — just the idea of your self-value and feeling like, every day, you accomplish something.

Empower employees.
It pushes decisions back to them and gives them a great deal of headway. When they make decisions that aren’t necessarily what I would make, I don’t punish them for it.

I may go to a manager and ask why they did something or how they evaluated that and what their thought process was, and try to share with them another perspective on it — something that they may not have considered. Maybe it was outside the range of what they’re aware of. For the most part, [it’s] letting them make decisions and supporting them, good or bad.

One person can’t make all the decisions. My big job, in terms of management, is to make these other people successful. The way to do that is for them to learn from the good and the bad of what they do.

Make employees happy.
Keep sight of the fact that there are a lot of people in the organization, and a lot of different needs and wants. Try to keep everything focused on your own people, because if they’re happy, they’ll treat your customers well, and if they’re not, they won’t.

Ease people’s growth fears.
Every company has some up and down cycles, particularly a fast-growing company. It will go through a period of really rapid growth, and it will bring on a lot of folks, and then the growth settles out, and you end up having to readjust personnel levels and jobs and changes.

When you go through one of those cycles of having some reductions of force or reorganization, that kind of change brings a company down. What we’ve done over the years is focused really hard on the employee relationships in terms of company parties and picnics, doing the little things around the office — bringing in lunches, taking everyone to the ball game.

We really focus hard on that to counterbalance the fear that ‘I’m going to lose my job.’ In general, it’s fear of the unknown that’s the biggest drag on a company’s growth.

Watch your emotions.
Never let them see you sweat. You can’t let the people that work for you know that you’re concerned, even though you are concerned and you are worried, and you’re making decisions you’re not 100 percent sure of.

You have to keep a good attitude. It starts from the top and goes all the way through the organization.

I can see it in stressful times. We went through a period of time where there was some litigation going on, and it was very stressful for myself and the CEO, and you could really feel it out in the organization — just this stressful sense all the way out from the people inside to the salespeople.

At the same time, when those things get behind you and you get on a roll and you’re setting records for sales, and I’ve got a bounce in my step, it just goes on through the organization as well.

Communicate repeatedly.
A lot of people pay lip service to communicating in top-down, bottom-up type of stuff, and they will communicate once and then expect that to be it. You have to circle back and re-communicate over and over again.

We had a period of time when we lost a product line we had for a long time — it was 50 percent of our revenue. We had to adjust and make changes. We had always had quarterly company meetings, but at each of the quarterly meetings for the next year or year-and-a-half, I went back over everything that had gone on since we lost those lines.

I know it was saying the same things over and over again, but it gave them comfort to circle back and see, ‘Yeah, this is what happened to us, but even though this is what happened, this is what we’ve done and been able to do,’ and kind of spread the optimism a little bit.

It has to be communication, but it has to be repetitive communication, because communicating change, it won’t stick with them. Not that they don’t remember it or don’t understand it, but when you communicate it, it relieves the anxiety, but the anxiety comes back, so you have to go back and address it again.


Wednesday, 20 September 2006 20:00

Robert Hallam

 Robert Hallam and his wife were once interviewing a job candidate with three other men. The men thought the candidate could walk on water, and they wanted him — badly. Hallam’s wife said absolutely not, and Hallam left the room in anger. Later, she encouraged him to listen to a book on tape about the differences between men and women in the work place, and because he wasn’t speaking to her that night, he listened to it and realized she was correct. Today, the CEO of Dimension One Spas makes sure candidates are interviewed by both men and women, as well as by people from other departments, to ensure getting beyond the facade. Smart Business spoke with Hallam about the principles that guide him in growing and managing the 350 employees that make up his $60 million company.

Care about your people and let them work.
Everybody has good people — even the worst companies have good people.

I don’t think I’ve gone into a business and said, ‘Wow that guy is an idiot. Boy, she looks stupid.’ No, people care about what they do. Not all, but a high majority of the people work hard and try to do a good job. All you have to do is let them.

The question is, how do you get the most out of those people? Give them a job they like, that they have passion for, give them an organization that gives a darn about them, and get the heck out of their way.

People talk about how people were the key, but most didn’t realize the key wasn’t the people. The key was what they, as CEO, did to allow the people to be the key, which is really different.

Mold younger minds.
Mentoring is important. I’m 60 years old and have been through a lot of different things.

Although I don’t think I’m particularly bright, I’ve run into some of these issues before, so I know how to handle them. To pass that information along to people, it’s amazing to see the light bulb go on above their heads.

Get buy-in.
We have strategic meetings where we say, ‘OK, where are we going, and what are we going to do?’ and listen to what everybody has to say, and we argue about it.

We used to take all the vice presidents out, get locked in a room for two or three days and come back and announce this great idea and be surprised (if) 20 or 30 percent of it would get accomplished.

When we bring 40 or 50 people to a meeting and we hash out each person’s vision and we pick and choose from these visions, you’d be amazed how much that buy-in changes the culture of the company and the attitude of the people that are trying to accomplish that vision or strategy.

If you give me an idea, and I like it and everybody else likes it, you’re going to bust your back to get that done. It’s part yours, so you have buy-in.

They were part of the solution, and when they are part of the solution, they jump on board and make sure it gets done. It makes a huge difference.

Think beyond a job description.
A job description limits your scope. You’re an engineer and a marketing idea comes to you — well, its not part of my job. Bullshit! Bull — it is part of your job.

Every idea is part of your job. When I do job descriptions, I make sure they’re wide, so somebody that has a passion can switch over to something else and do a little of that, too.

There’s people we move from one department to another because we saw that they were doing an OK job here, but boy, these ideas in marketing are sensational. You change the place on the bus, and all of a sudden they go from a nice producer to a superstar.

Practice listening.
It’s important ... to sit down with people and listen to what they have to say. Now I listen more.

As you get older, you’ve learned a lot, you’ve been there, so you spend a lot more time working with your ears than with your lips. People will tell you everything you want to know if you just listen and ask a few questions.

Don’t search for one magic bullet.
Most people think there’s a magic thing to do to your company to sell more product or become more lean. There isn’t.

Every corner of your business is a way to make you 1 percent better. Whether it’s using ... a new marketing campaign or a better way to do procedures or a new product, that will make you 1 percent better, but it won’t make you 100 percent better — or 5 or 10 percent.

All these things are no better than 1 percent, but if you do all of them, that’s what makes for a successful company. Do not depend on any one thing to save you or to make you successful.

There are no seven highly effective habits of a successful person. There’s a hundred habits of a successful person. Your habits may be different than somebody else’s. They both can be successful. It’s foolish to believe that one thing can solve it.

Instill the value of teamwork.
Every Friday, all the individuals write a report of what they did during the week. If you spend more than five minutes doing this, you’re chastised. The idea is, ‘This is the highlight of the week’ — one line, two lines — ‘By the way, this person really helped me this week, and I want to give them a penny.’

When people give another person a penny, they value that person, and it comes back to them. It doesn’t necessarily come back to them directly, but it may come back in a roundabout way. You, as a company, are patting somebody else on the back, so it makes it a much happier company.

Be a strong manager.
One of the questions I ask when I’m hiring a manager is, ‘What do you expect out of your employees?’ They’ll give you a list of different things.

‘What do you expect out of me?’ Nine times out of 10, those will be different, and they shouldn’t be. They should be the same.

I’m looking for somebody who helps other people get better, who sets certain goals for people and helps them attain it.

HOW TO REACH: Dimension One Spas,

Tuesday, 19 September 2006 20:00

Change agent

 Glenn W. Anderson saw his company dwindle to nearly nothing after it exited the insurance line that accounted for 80 percent of its business.

In 2002, Gainsco Inc. was primarily in the commercial lines insurance business and was hemorrhaging money. After the company tried unsuccessfully to fix the problems, that part of the business was scrapped.

There was a seed of hope, however, in a small Florida subsidiary of the company that specialized in the nonstandard personal automobile insurance line. Anderson, CEO of the company, took that seed, spread it across the Southern states and created a stronger foundation, allowing Gainsco to grow to $99 million in revenue last year, a 103 percent increase over the previous year.

Smart Business spoke with Anderson about how he leads growth and establishes a vision for his 400 employees.

How do you manage growth?
When a rocket goes up into the air, it looks to be a perfect flight, but in reality, what is happening is the computers within the rocket are making adjustments on a millisecond basis. So what appears to be a perfect flight is really just a series of micro-adjustments.

The analogy is that when you grow as fast as we’re growing, you have to work under the assumption that something is not working right, and you have to have a highly proactive approach to find out what is not working right so that you can make those milli-adjustments.

If you’re successful in making a lot of millisecond adjustments, then that avoids the more severe adjustment that might otherwise occur because you failed to make the millisecond adjustments. God forbid you don’t even do that, and then the rocket falls out of orbit.

How do you make decisions?
What underlines our ability to do business is the fact that we have capital. One of the most central tenets of all is to make money. If you make money, you can always come back another day and write more business.

If you don’t make money, you’ve not earned the right to come back the next day to make money. If you’re facing decisions in business, ultimately you do what the right profit-making decision suggests you (do).

Be extraordinarily service-driven. Our customers ultimately vote as to whether they want to join or stay with our company. The retention of customers in our business is extraordinarily important because it’s our downstream and revenue stream, so to earn the right to retain those customers — earn their votes, so to speak — you have to provide extraordinary service because their doors are being knocked on at all times to leave our company and join another company, because that’s how competition works.

What keeps a company from growing?
If you don’t have the vision, and if you do not have a leadership team that is driven to achieve that vision, you essentially will not be compelled to make the changes that will drive you forward ... in that vision. You’re more likely to be operating more as an administrative maintenance organization, just keep on keeping on and sustaining what you have, but not developing the growth of the company.

There’s a tremendous amount of leverage associated with the vision and the leadership team that’s dedicated to achieving that vision.

In the absence of vision, there’s no reason to change or to upgrade or to improve or to develop or to grow.

How do you get employees to buy into that vision?
By having a broader environment and culture that’s exciting and vibrant, and enabling people to perform their jobs and grow in their careers. We grade out the performance of our organizational units in terms of 1 to 10 and keep track of their performance. We evaluate each of the individuals in those organizations with the same type of grading system.

The spirit of this is complete teamwork and honesty. If the organizational units are not evolving from a 6 to a 10, we’re candid about that measurement. We proactively identify what it takes to advance that organizational unit to become a 10.

If every day, every person is focused on moving from a 6 to a 10, in the context of fulfilling the vision, then we will make that happen.

How do you get them to do that?
Culturally, we create the environment where people are encouraged to speak up and perform at a high level and show how good they are. Secondly, we’re providing a lot of resources to provide the tools to enable them to succeed.

We’re investing a lot of money in new systems, new products, new tools, new capabilities. We’ve been less concerned with the impact of those expenditures on our bottom line and more concerned with building a foundation on the belief that if you build it right, the business will ultimately be generated because of that.

Build the foundation, and then you can add almost indefinitely to that foundation, but if you start going for the top of the pyramid without the foundation, it will ultimately collapse.

HOW TO REACH: Gainsco Inc.,

Tuesday, 29 August 2006 20:00

Rhea F. Law

 Rhea F. Law’s leadership style is simple: Build consensus and serve as an example to employees. As president and CEO of Fowler White Boggs Banker, she continues to practice law, despite being at the top of the ladder, which keeps her in tune with the needs of her 540 employees and all of their clients, as well. This approach has resulted in a positive verdict — $82 million in revenue across the firm’s 10 offices last year. Smart Business spoke with Law about the importance of communication and why being open to change can lead to success.

Be a strong communicator.
Communication is probably the single most important thing in any business. If you do not do a good job of communication, then it’s not likely that the individuals within your firm will be speaking in one voice and acting in concert with each other.

You cannot ever, ever, ever underestimate, nor can you overdo, communication.

When I first came on as president of the firm, the first thing we did was go around and individually speak with every single shareholder in the firm and talk to them significantly and in depth — an hour or two-hour conversation. That took a lot of time, but was the most important thing that I did because it led to an understanding of what they felt the strengths of the firm were, what they felt the challenges might be and their ideas of how you might move forward.

That turned out to be so successful that we now do that every year.

Embrace change.
You’ve got to be really open-minded. The world is changing every day. You need to be open to suggestion and comment, doing things differently than they may have been done before.

Change is a very difficult thing. There are times when people are concerned about change, so you need to see the greater good. It’s a matter of making a case for change.

It’s very easy to become complacent in anything that you do because it’s comfortable. If we are not aware of what’s going on and addressing those issues and, in some cases, guiding that change, we will wake up in the morning and have no business.

It’s a matter of understanding the changes impacting our clients, and therefore, changes impacting us. We need to be leading that. We need to have a culture that accepts change, not as a bad thing but as an opportunity to grow.

Make concentrated efforts to help your customers.
I go and meet with our clients, even if I’m not doing the work for them. I spend time with their CEO, saying, ‘We really care about your business. We want to know what challenges you’re having. How can we help you? How do we do it the very best we can?’

They come up with wonderful suggestions, which we bring back to implement. We have industry groups, client service groups, all of which are focused on an individual area: What’s happening in the law? What’s happening in agencies and legislative actions and communities and government, and how does that affect our client? What could we propose to help?

Sometimes it’s doing seminars for them. Sometimes it’s just giving them a heads-up. Sometimes it’s just keeping them up to date with our weekly e-newsletters.

All of those things are focused on giving them information, giving them the opportunity to focus on things before it becomes a crisis. When our clients are successful, then we’re successful. Our whole focus is on our clients.

Without them we wouldn’t have a business. As they are satisfied with our effort, and as they grow and they prosper, so do we.

Get buy-in before, during and after a decision.
Make a determination of the direction, and make sure you have buy-in from those individuals that are going to be tasked with carrying out the implementation.

Always be very straightforward with those that you’re speaking with. Make your decisions based on a lot of input from people and information.

It gives us a diversity of input. It helps with the buy-in. You can make a goal for a company, but unless you have everybody agreeing that that goal applies to them, the implementation becomes very difficult.

Empower them by having buy-in to the vision, because then you’re going to ask them to be responsible for some part of the implementation.

Keep your employees around for the long-haul.
Hire extremely bright, confident, innovative, proactive people. Once you’ve done that, you just turn them loose and let them do their job.

As they’re coming in to a firm, you really inquire into their character and capability. They will prove themselves to you, and as they prove themselves to you, you give them more and more opportunity.

One is making sure you understand what each individual might want for their own individual career. People’s needs and desires are very different, and that’s something you should explore very early on when you’re hiring so you don’t get a mismatch.

Certainly mentoring is important. When a new lawyer comes in, we have a supervising shareholder, peer coaches, as well as these training programs, that are really intended to help them along the way when they hit an area where they may be unsure or have questions on how to proceed, but also to recognize what their strengths are and how they might best be utilized within the firm so they get the most satisfaction out of it, too, and the clients get the best service.

Take risks, but maintain focus.
The success of a firm has a lot to do with the willingness to be innovative and to be forward-thinking, and to be always focusing on solutions and opportunities. If you don’t do that, you only get what’s left.

Focus on your goals. Then every step you take, you go back to your base goals and say, ‘What is it that has led me here?’ And make your decisions based upon what those goals are. Does it fit into the scenario or not?

HOW TO REACH: Fowler White Boggs Banker,

Monday, 28 August 2006 20:00

Mike Dunn

 “When did anybody tell you life is fair?” Those were the words left ringing in Mike Dunn’s ears in 1991 when he was fired from a previous company he had built. Six years later, though, he got a rare second chance. The company was struggling more than it was when he was booted, so he bought it back from those who had fired him. He turned it around and one year later, sold it for three times what he had paid. Today, he is CEO of PolyVision, and leads the $175 million, 1,150-employee company that make products for creative visual communication displays. <I>Smart Business<P> spoke with Dunn about how the lessons he’s learned have shaped the way he leads and manages.

Practice higher choice.
You have to be absolutely truthful. You have to live to your principles, and if you get fired, where you have to walk away from the situation, that is the best example of what you’re made of.

If you’re willing to compromise your standards to protect a job, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. I refer to it as higher choice. Higher choice is never easy, but if it truly is the right thing to do, then you owe it to yourself to live to it.

Communicate your vision.
If you’re lucky enough to be a one-man band, you can go off and think about the business and create a vision that everybody else will work at implementing, but those people are rare.

Vision becomes culture. It becomes a strategy. It becomes a statement as to what you want to be. That has to come out of the leadership team, not just the CEO.

When you want the vision effectively communicated throughout the company, you have to have people that believe it, that understand it, that they themselves buy into. The more you make them a part of creating it, the greater the representation that they can offer.

Lose the ego.
Be as devoid of ego as humanly possible. I don’t think people like following people that have big egos, so trying to eliminate or minimize your own sense of being from an egotistical perspective is absolutely key.

As you do that, you begin to learn the value of the people around you — the fact that you wouldn’t be where you are if it wasn’t for those people. As you begin to learn and appreciate that, your ability to celebrate the successes of the company becomes that much easier and natural.

Make selfless decisions.
It is difficult and, in some respects, it’s what separates the gene pool of people who ultimately end up as CEOs and those who don’t. It doesn’t make people who don’t achieve the position of CEO worth any less, it’s just a different skill set, and as a CEO, it’s a desirable skill set.

I haven’t met a CEO who hasn’t learned to deal with failure. This goes hand-in-hand with having your ego in check. It goes hand-in-hand with learning the value of the people around you. As you begin to do this, and as you deal with failure, it allows you develop an enhanced appreciation.

Go beyond the typical reference checks.
Most people provide two to three references. I’ll ask for 20. Give me the name of somebody that doesn’t like you. Give me the name of someone you may have had a serious disagreement with.

Whoever this individual is and whatever job they’re being interviewed for, they’re not going to be perfect in the job. I’m not a perfect CEO. Once you can get the whole idea of eliminating the faade out of the way, we can deal with each other at a level that will be meaningful and productive.

Show employees you’re part of the team.
You can’t ask the organization to take risks unless you’re willing to take risks yourself.

It’s important that the organization see the CEO as someone not hiding behind a brick wall, not hiding behind an organization, not hiding behind processes, the corporate rule book, that he, in fact, is willing to put himself at risk in a situation in an attempt to further the organization.

That comes down to the CEO being in a position to admit that he or she is wrong. ‘We decided to try something, and I was wrong. I apologize to the organization because we have all paid the price.’

CEOs who are willing to admit they are wrong to their organizations are the greatest sign of strength and will inspire to get behind you more quickly than you standing in front of the organization and trying to inspire them with how wonderful you are.

Have a clear reason for change.
So many times, when companies have to change, managers go off-site. They come back, and there’s 25 things that are going to happen, and they just release all these things on the organization, expecting the organization to jump, act and deliver. That’s not the way it happens.

When there’s fundamental change required, it’s not just changes in processes. Many times you’re going to expect changes in behaviors as well, and people don’t change behavior very easily or without a real solid motivation and understanding.

Give them a real good reason why change is necessary. That comes down to making sure there is good reason for change in the first place.

Involve others in planning for change.
The first requirement is for the management to have an objective assessment as to the type of change that’s needed. Quantify its impact on the organization.

Try to accurately and objectively assess the stuff necessary within the organization to make it happen. Then begin to involve the organization, not just in what needs to change but why. If you do that, people get on board, and they help deliver.

The big issues around change generally deal with resistance to change or the outcome of the change not reflecting what management thought it would be. More times than not, the reason for that was poor planning on the front end.

The change may have been necessary, but the solution not well-thought-out. The people most affected were not involved early enough to help assess the reason for the change and the steps to be taken.

As a result, we sit around after the fact and wonder why things didn’t work the way we had planned. Well, poor planning and poor execution got us there.

How to reach: PolyVision Corp.,

Friday, 28 July 2006 20:00

In focus

 Leonard Cherry has mastered the art of delegating.

By developing junior- and senior-level management programs, he’s maximized opportunities for Cherry Cos. and kept the company focused on its core.

“It’s a progression of growth that all ties back,” Cherry says. “Visually, I like to think of it like a circle. Our client is in the middle, and we do everything we can to encircle our client with the services that we provide.

“We’re a house-moving and demolition company, and we’re a recycler. There may be wonderful opportunities in other areas, but we like to stay focused on what we’re good at and what we do. That focus doesn’t mean we can’t grow and can’t expand.”

It certainly doesn’t, as Cherry Cos. posted $43 million in revenue last year, a 59 percent increase over two years.

Smart Business spoke with Cherry about how he focuses on his 220 employees to grow his companies.

How do you manage growth?
There are multiple facets to the issue of growth in business. There’s market opportunities, liquidity demands, personnel benefits, equipment acquisition, the administrative function of overseeing increased values. If you don’t have dedicated people to accomplish the goals, what you really just have is still a dream.

Focus upon the process, which is mainly driven by the people. Our employees are our single greatest asset. Anybody can buy equipment — you just need a friendly banker. Focus on the individuals and the people that perform the work, and if you do your work correctly, relative to your people, the volume and margins will follow.

Without the people dedicated to the common goal, it’s not going to happen. Concentrate on qualified people and passing on to them your vision, having them buy into that vision.

How do you get employees to buy into your vision?
I express to them what I think, where I think we need to go, the reasons why I think we need to go there, and because our management team has grown, they then have that opportunity for open input and, ultimately, a vote. That’s a growth process.

You don’t bring somebody brand new into the management team — they’re still weak in the concept and the vision and the goal, and they haven’t had that opportunity to show that commitment — and give them a vote. You nurture these individuals until they get to that point, and then you empower them — responsibility with authority.

If they’re responsible, you have to get out of the way and give them some authority. If you choose your individuals correctly and you give them the support they need, they will respond in time.

How do you strengthen the team as you grow?
Education and communication. There’s a constant flow of information that moves in multiple directions. We’ve brought in an outside consultant that communicates with our junior management team and our management team on a weekly basis.

They always have reading material. Whether you agree with the concepts of whatever that book may be at the time, it helps them to broaden their horizon and makes them think beyond the issues of today.

They, in turn, can take that broadened horizon and verbalize it to their people and instruct in their own divisions.

How do you show employees you care?
I’m a firm believer in leading by example. When I’m starting to feel a little frayed and ragged, my people usually are as well, so we need to tone it back a notch - slow down, take a break.

Monetarily, we’re all here to make a living. These individuals’ first responsibility is to provide for the needs and wants of their family, and so much of that is driven financially, so that’s the first issue we need to cover.

Their second issue is they want to feel like they’re part of something larger than themselves. We all do. That’s why we work with the open lines of communication, so everyone understands they are part of the larger picture, and each individual’s application does apply toward the end result, whether that end is positive or negative.

With a company that’s been here over 50 years, we’ve lived through those times when an individual reached retirement age, you’d pat them on the back, and they’d have Social Security to rely upon, and they can watch and come back and visit whenever they want.

We have a number of third-generation employees. It’s important to continue to send the message to the new people coming in that this is a different environment. This isn’t just a place to collect a paycheck.

This is a career. This is a place to stay. You can live out your professional career here with those opportunities for advancement.

HOW TO REACH: Cherry Cos.,

Thursday, 29 June 2006 17:27

Robert W. Zoller

Robert W. Zoller makes people and communication his top priorities, but it’s not always easy. With Kitty Hawk Inc.’s planes, trucks and people delivering time-sensitive freight all over the country, it can prove difficult to keep employees engaged and informed. But with clear and constant communication, the president, CEO and director is getting his message across, and the numbers speak for the success of his efforts as the company posted $156.6 million in revenue last year. Smart Business spoke with Zoller about what he looks for in employees and how he clearly communicates with them.

Hire people with broad experience.
I like to see people that have broader experiences in lots of different areas, people who have crossed over from one functional area to another in their career. They have a well-rounded view of management and management style when they join the team at the senior leadership level.

Sometimes if people have experience in one particular area, they become narrow or their focus is too specific. Every department requires some technical expertise and experience. The higher you go in management, the more generalist your approach needs to be. You may be an expert in the subject material, or you may not, but you have to rely on other people to accomplish certain things.

Hire open people, not defensive ones.
I like to see people who are also collaborative with their staffs, people who are very visible in the work areas, who communicate clearly and always make sure that the team they’re working with is fully informed about what is happening, what the latest bit of information is, the direction of the company or the direction of their department.

You can tell when somebody might be defensive — they’re being very careful about how they answer particular questions. Look for someone who is very open and honest and easily communicating what their strengths and weaknesses might be. Look for examples of when they’ve displayed leadership.

Look for if someone is continuously pointing out the things they’ve accomplished or whether they point out the things their team has accomplished, whether they give credit to other people to things they have achieved in their career.

Be adaptable to continue growing.
There’s always external forces that are beyond your control. A good organization is able to detect when that is going to affect or potentially affect their company, department or work unit, and quickly analyze the situation and start making some adjustment so the event is either not as serious or it can be avoided.

Internally, if departments or individuals create barriers to communication, that tends to stifle the communication of the overall goal or objective. People do not look at the overall corporate objectives and evaluate how they can help achieve those goals through their own efforts or work unit. That becomes a problem.

Stress highly that all the departments work together and communicate together on projects they’re trying to accomplish, even though the departments may not be directly involved. At least they’re aware of it. That involves them more in the potential solution.

To keep employees engaged, communicate with them.
Look at the overall organization to see whether or not the team members and the leaders are engaged. Are they actively working together as a team — regardless of if they’re in one department or another, regardless of what their title or their position is, regardless of what their responsibilities are? If everyone is engaged, active, focused on making the company successful, you have a much better chance.

The key is to select senior leaders, and leaders look for team members, who are open and willing to communicate to each other freely and not let titles or status in the organization keep you from communicating. Allow a free flow of information throughout the organization so people feel connected to what the goals and objectives of the company are as well as feel as though they have a way of contributing to the achievement of the goal.

Communicate clearly.
Clarity is extremely important. As CEOs, we tend to overcommunicate on certain things. That leads to a message that might be confusing to some people.

It’s important to be as clear and concise as you possibly can be when you’re stating an objective or a goal or you’re developing or communicating strategy to others.

The key is to not rely solely on your direct reports to communicate the message to the rest of the team but to be available to discuss the strategy or the goals of the company with all of the team members. Make sure that, No. 1, they are getting clear, concise, accurate reporting of the goals and objectives of the company but also to open a dialogue in case they have ideas that may be helpful in shaping the future of the company.

When making decisions, include anyone affected by them. It helps if everybody is moving in the same direction. Managers sometimes make the mistake that they always know the right answer.

It’s important that ideas and strategies be discussed and that everyone be open to critiquing the objectives and the strategies because you never know when someone’s going to have a better idea. They may have a better approach. They may realize that there’s something that was overlooked in the development of the strategy, or the objective needs to be taken into consideration.

The communication from the management to individual team members and then from the team members to the management is crucial.

Work collaboratively to focus each day.
You need to set priorities. You need to focus on three to six things to accomplish each day.

Make sure that the overall objectives of the company are clear and concise, and continue referencing those. Make sure the things you’re setting as priorities and things that you’re spending your time on are, in fact, the things that are most important in achieving the success you’re trying to find.

CEOs tend to isolate themselves — not because they do it deliberately, but there are a lot of demands on our time and our ability to accomplish things. One has to be an expert in time management, one has to have a support team of senior leadership and other staff support that will make sure priorities are established, things are not overlooked and we’re focused on the correct priorities at the time.

It’s a cooperative effort to make sure we all are looking out for each other.

Feel out the situation before making quick decisions.

Listen with an open mind. Don’t prejudge a situation when you’re new to a situation, a company or a department.

Communicate with all of the people involved, whether they be the team members inside the department, or they be the suppliers or the customers. Learn as much as you can about how they view the company or the position, and then assess what direction or what leadership needs to be given in order to be successful.

How to reach: Kitty Hawk Inc.,

Thursday, 29 June 2006 06:17

A vision and belief

James M. Petras and James D. Ireland III had a belief. They believed in the Midwest — specifically in Ohio and its Northeast region. They believed in the potential of people, and had confidence that this region had plenty of budding entrepreneurs with creative and innovative ideas.

These beliefs guided them in their quest to help provide financial support to help emerging technology companies thrive in a region not known for such endeavors. This quest led them to found Early Stage Partners, and though the journey required perseverance to get there, it was fueled by their solid beliefs.

Petras and Ireland founded Capital One Partners, the parent company of Early Stage Partners, in 1993 with the goal to invest in early-stage and middle-market companies that needed significant strategic and financial attention in order to grow. Over time, they saw much more of a need in the early-stage companies, so they shifted their focus.

They recognized a business opportunity in forming a fund to provide venture capital to the underserved Northeast Ohio region. With help from a State of Ohio grant, the seed capital was formed for Early Stage Partners. The team began investing capital and made its first investments in 2001.

The economy challenged their efforts during the dot-com bust and the Sept. 11 attacks, prolonging the period they needed to raise sufficient capital to launch a credible venture fund. In spite of the obstacles, however, they received fund-raising period extensions several times, and the company emerged two years later as the largest early-stage fund of its type in Ohio.

No other group in recent years has been able to raise more than one-third of the amount they raised in the same region. Even more impressively, they raised the money during the technology and venture capital market downturn and in a region with little history of supporting such initiatives.

Their efforts prove that a little faith in people can go a long way toward improving an economy. As a result, more small companies in the Northeast Ohio region are growing and thriving.

How to reach: Early Stage Partners, (216) 781-5134 or