Trina Gordon looked at her company’s clients and could see that they wanted more. It wasn’t that Boyden World Corp. had done a bad job of meeting their needs. They just had more needs to be met.
“What we began to notice out of this downturn was challenges in the macroeconomic environment continued to persist globally,” says Gordon, president and CEO at the professional services firm.
“Clients, particularly global clients and emerging global clients all over the worldwide landscape were becoming more demanding about greater consistency and quality of service from their advisers,” she says. “What that meant was we needed to take a really hard look at what was an effective client advisory relationship.”
It can be a tough pill to swallow when you feel like you’re giving maximum effort to help your clients and then you find out that you could be doing it better.
“There’s a little bit of that in your psyche that says, ‘I want to hear the great things I’m doing,’” Gordon says. “I’m not sure I want to hear where I didn’t do as well or where I need to improve. But it’s the only way we’re going to get better at what they want us to do and deepen the relationship.”
Sometimes, you’ve got to set your ego aside, even when you’re a top 10 global executive search firm with 250 associates in more than 70 offices and 40 countries around the world.
“Sometimes partnerships tend to be more process-driven and internally focused and concerned with the practices and processes of how we do our work,” Gordon says. “In this case, we had to turn that perception completely around and push our organization facing outward at potential and existing clients. We had to build a foundation for how everything we did focused on what they told us they needed and how we performed against those needs and requirements.”
Get to the point
In the simplest terms, clients were looking for more bang for their buck with Boyden.
“Clients were no longer saying we have talent or human capital needs in emerging markets and anybody sitting in an emerging market can help us,” Gordon says. “What they began to say was we want real sector expertise, sometimes even deep functional expertise. You need to understand our business in a unique way. We began to see as a board, as a partnership, a real tipping point in how clients look at the professional services sector.”
Gordon wanted to respond swiftly, but methodically to this change in the marketplace. It needed to be done, but it needed to be done right.
“The challenge for a firm like our’s is how do you respond to those trends in a way that really adds differentiating value to clients,” Gordon says. “How were we going to uniquely stand apart from our competition and ensure that we could meet those client needs at an increasingly and more complicated demand level?”
One of the first things Gordon did was meet with all Boyden’s global partners and her leadership team. It would serve as a foundational meeting to begin developing a strategy to transform the firm.
“The message was we have this opportunistic window in our own retained search business to drive this concept forward and lead it as a premier global search firm, the first to do so,” Gordon says.
One of the next steps was a global conference in Asia where many of the firm’s key leaders sat down and defined the things that they felt the firm needed to represent going forward. These leaders had spoken with clients and gathered feedback. Now it was time to lay it all out there so Boyden could begin to shape its strategy.
“Part of what clients have shared with us is we want to have a singular kind of experience with you,” Gordon says. “That means you need to understand who we are and what our business strengths are. Understand our business. Get under our skin. Be sector specific with us. You have to demonstrate a genuine understanding of who we are, which meant the difference between a robust client relationship and one that isn’t robust.”
Know what you don’t know
There is a word of caution that must be addressed for any firm that is looking to adapt what it does for its clients. You better have a good idea of what you stand for before you begin the transformation.
“When we stray from our core expertise and we stretch out and try to do something we’re not capable of doing, we’re no longer acting with integrity and it ultimately will affect the client relationship,” Gordon says.
“We have to be able to know what our strengths are, be true to them and have the courage to say, ‘This is how we can best help you.’ We also have to be honest with the client and say, ‘This is what we can do and this is what we can’t do well.’ We’re not going to risk our relationship for the sake of saying we can be all things to a client.”
If you don’t know what your core beliefs and expertise are, then how will you know whether the thing you’re being asked to do fits in? You have to be clear about it so that you can give your best effort and performance on the project.
“It’s one thing to stretch in an area where we have done some work and there’s expertise elsewhere in our firm to help us and guide us and draw upon and bring into the client equation,” Gordon says.
“It’s another when it’s completely further afield from the core expertise of the firm. That’s where you can get into trouble with a client. And it’s very hard to recover a relationship that you’ve damaged.”
Boyden is a big firm and so there was a ton of information and data to sort through as this transformation took place. It was incumbent upon Gordon to not let it overwhelm her team.
“It’s important to take a step back, center yourself and think through what’s really important,” Gordon says. “Prioritize and move in steps. You’ll overwhelm the organization if you try to do much too soon without a coherent message, without responsible buy-in and without a very clear approach to staying true to who you are. “We’re still evolving as an organization because change is not always an easy thing. What I’ve learned is to take a deep breath and make sure you’re confident in the people around you and confident in what your clients are telling you.”
You want to please your clients and that’s obviously the most important thing. But don’t let it affect your work and force you into a pace that will result in a substandard final product.
You also need to make sure you’re cognizant of your personnel resources. What skills can your people jump right in and take on and which ones will require some level of training?
“You can’t just assume you have a completely homogenous organization that all can move forward at the same time toward this enhanced approach with clients,” Gordon says. “One of the things I tried to do very early with our leadership team was reach out to those key voices inside our firm who embody this work already and who are our greatest client advocates.”
You undoubtedly have some people in your company who can be trainers and who can help their peers grow. Tap into that resource and put it to use. And for other people who need to learn some new skills, do what you can to help them.
“There’s a lot going on inside a complex organization,” Gordon says. “Not everybody can drink from a fire hose at the same time. So you need to be able to call upon your leadership, those individuals that people respect and know that already embody this expertise with clients and utilize their knowledge base and their talent to train, teach and enrich younger partners or partners that are new to the profession. That is a continual process.”
It’s a process that will likely never be completely wrapped up. There’s always more to learn and more to figure out and Gordon says they’ll just keep on trying to do the best they can for their clients. But this process has already put the firm in a better position to serve those clients.
“Our dashboard is built, our metrics are built, so all of it is now launched,” Gordon says. “We’re at this exciting period where you’re diving off the board hand in hand with your client into this brave new milieu. I see it as a continual evolution that our own firm and each and every one of our partners will sort of continuously travel together.”
How to reach: Boyden World Corp., (312) 565-1300 or www.boyden.com
The Gordon File
Trina Gordon, president and CEO, Boyden World Corp.
Born: Alliance, Ohio
Education: Bachelor’s degree, political science; master’s degree, public administration, Auburn University
What did you want to be growing up?
From the time I was little, I always wanted to be an equine veterinarian. So my interest in Auburn, at least prior to going there, was they have one of the finest equine veterinary schools in the country. When I went there, I fell in love with the philosophy of the university, the campus and the people. But I found that the pre-veterinary program, I didn’t have the constitution for invasive medicine. So my dream of becoming an equine vet versus the leader of a professional search firm is quite different. So I switched majors, I stayed and I loved it.
What was your very first job?
In the summer, my brother and I ran a custom car detailing business part of the day out of my parents’ garage. Then in the afternoons, I ran a daycare nursery school for kids in our area. I had about 10 to 12 kids at a time and they were ages six to 10.
Who would you like to meet and why?
I love history, so if I had the opportunity to sit down with anyone, it would be Elizabeth I. I would like to know how a woman who was the first leader of a powerful, yet fledgling nation was able to bring a divided country together and bring them to global prominence. How she was able to unify them behind an individual who heretofore in their history, had never been a woman and reign long and lasting over a very respectful populace. She was able to gain the credibility of all the men around her and win respect around medieval Europe.
Be clear about your goals.
Understand your limitations.
Don’t rush just to get it done.
Bernie Moreno has always had a great love for cars. They had to be in his life. So as a 25-year-old, he went to work as a general manager of Herb Chambers’ Saturn dealership in Boston. During the course of 12 years there, he became Chambers’ vice president.
Moreno’s success caught the attention of Mercedes-Benz who asked Moreno if he would move to Cleveland to run a Mercedes-Benz dealership. Moreno agreed.
“I came in to Cleveland to see what this dealership was all about before I bought it,” Moreno says. “I pulled up here with my wife, I saw a salesperson, and I told him I was thinking about either a Lexus or a Mercedes — and I’m moving to Cleveland.
“The salesperson said, ‘I don’t understand why you’d want to move to Cleveland. This is the worst place on Earth to live. The people suck, the weather sucks, the economy sucks. I was born here and I’ve been trying to leave here since I came out of the womb.’ This is what the guy said to me.
“So I said, ‘People don’t buy Mercedes here?’ He said, ‘This is a blue-collar town. If we sell 10 to 15 cars a month, that’s a great month. If we sell 20, we’re dancing on the tables.’”
Moreno could have been discouraged, but he wasn’t. The dealership had been selling 200 cars a year before Moreno took over. He came in and set the goal high for the new dealership team.
“We came in, and I said to myself, ‘We can’t live selling five cars a month,’” Moreno says. “In our first sales meeting, May 13, 2005, I said, ‘We’re going to sell 100 cars a month.’
“We knew we had to do that because if we didn’t sell 100 cars a month, I couldn’t pay me, let alone my staff. I had to succeed because if I didn’t I would be in big trouble because I just committed my entire life to this endeavor.”
Here is how Moreno, president of Collection Auto Group, took one Mercedes-Benz dealership and built it into the Collection Auto Group that we know in Cleveland today.
When Moreno was working in Boston prior to 2005, he was helping run what was the sixth-largest privately owned dealership group in America with $1.5 billion in annual sales. In early 2005, he took over a dealership that sold only 200 cars a year.
“The difference is this one is mine and that one I just worked for,” Moreno says.
At that time, Moreno’s focus was to establish the dealership in the Cleveland area and create the right culture within the company.
“What helped in that tremendously was the fact that 12 guys moved from Boston to Cleveland with me,” he says. “That was a huge help, because when you’re establishing a culture, you need a critical mass of people who feel the same way that you do philosophically.”
Moreno says his desire to create further opportunities for the business fueled the dealership group’s growth the most. This, in turn, created opportunities for his staff.
“You can’t have all these guys in one store and challenge them and keep them growing,” he says. “All of them now have their own dealership that they run or a larger position within the company, which is great.”
In 2005, the dealership sold 24 cars between Jan. 1 and May 11. From May 12 to May 31 that year, it sold 80 cars. From that point on, Moreno and his team have been hitting their goal of 100 cars a month and then some.
“Our focus right now is really managing our growth,” he says. “We started with one dealership. We took over a small 200-car-a-year Lexus building. We finished the building in September 2008 right after Lehman Brothers collapsed. We used the opportunity to grow, and that growth was somewhat tame versus what we are doing today.”
Recently, Moreno has been expanding his business almost exponentially. Within the past year alone, the company has opened a Volkswagen dealership, a second Infiniti dealership, a new Nissan dealership, is building a new Mercedes-Benz dealership in Cincinnati and has been renovating several properties.
Moreno has plenty of projects to keep him busy. He has to buy the land for the new dealerships, build the dealerships, meet the individual car company’s requirements and hire people to run the dealerships. On top of all of that, Moreno still has to look after the other dealerships he has in operation.
Today, Moreno runs a collection of 24 dealerships, which led to the name, Collection Auto Group. The company is a more than 400-employee, $350 million car dealership group that sells Acura, Aston Martin, Buick, Fisker, GMC, Infiniti, Lotus, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, smart, Spyker, Vpg, Volkswagen and Maserati brands.
“It was never the intention to move to Cleveland to have a small little dealership,” Moreno says. “That wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t necessarily think I was going to have 24 dealerships in seven or eight years, but I knew it wasn’t going to be a small dealership.”
Moreno may have been worried about car sales when the dealership first started, but in 2012 alone, Collection Auto Group sold 6,500 cars companywide.
“It’s is a big change,” he says. “Managing growth is like blowing up a balloon — you want to make sure you manage it properly, because otherwise you’re going to do it too fast.”
There are several factors that have helped Moreno and Collection Auto Group in its growth trajectory, but above all else, it comes back to the fact that Moreno loves cars.
“No. 1, you have to do what you love because if you’re not doing what you love, then you’re never going to be as successful as you can be,” he says. “For me, cars have always been a passion since I was a little kid.”
Another thing Moreno says has aided in his success is that he didn’t chase money. In fact, Moreno was making more money in Boston before he moved to Cleveland, but he wanted the opportunity to be his own boss.
“The biggest mistake people make is they follow money,” he says. “They’ll take a job because it pays more or they do this business because they’ll be rich. Money follows; money doesn’t lead.”
While people may make a certain move because it means more money, people will also find excuses for reasons that they can’t do something due to a lack of capital.
“If you have a great idea and you have passion, money will find you,” Moreno says. “When I bought Mercedes-Benz North Olmsted in 2005, I bought it with every dollar I had ever saved in my life. I joke that if I could have put a mortgage on my socks, I would have. It was never a scenario where I worried about getting the money to put this together.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘How badly do you want something? How badly do you believe that it can succeed? And how much do you believe in yourself?’ If the answer to all of that is at the top level, money will find you.”
Lastly, Moreno’s success has been made possible by the team he has put together at Collection Auto Group.
“You have to give people reason to follow you and be with you,” he says. “Why would somebody leave a job if not for the opportunity for personal growth, career advancement and learning? That’s the promise you have to deliver.”
Define your business
Once Moreno and his team started to get settled in Cleveland, the focus had to shift to creating a strong culture and one that would define how the business operated.
“You have to define your business,” Moreno says. “What business are you really in? A lot of my peers would say, ‘We’re in the car business. Look around, it’s a bunch of cars that we sell and service.’
“If you define that you’re in the car business, it’s an extraordinarily narrow definition. If you ask any employee in our company, whether it’s a receptionist, a car wash kid, a technician or a salesperson, they would say, ‘We’re in the customer service business.’”
Collection Auto Group sells cars, but it’s in the customer service business, and as a result, everybody understands that nothing is more important.
“When a customer walks through that door you should treat them like (they’re) the reason I’m here today, not like an inconvenience,” Moreno says. “My door is always open. If I’m willing to do that, what does it mean to everybody else in our organization?”
Moreno’s attention to clients goes far beyond making sure he gives them his time when they need it. He wants to change the car-buying experience.
“Some people hate buying cars,” he says. “But people love to buy iPhones. What’s the difference? The difference is that car dealers have made it painful for customers to buy cars. Car dealers have made the buying process completely unenjoyable, and it should be the complete opposite.”
Before Apple, people hated buying computers too. Now, people often just go to the Apple store to hang out because they made it fun and interesting.
“In the car business, it should be the same way, and the biggest thing that gets in people’s way is this fear when you walk through the front door that you’re going to be taken advantage of,” Moreno says. “Knowing that, we try to create a culture that says, ‘Let’s get rid of that anxiety.’”
Collection Auto Group tries to be extraordinarily transparent to make the negotiation process quick and easy. That transparency helps attract customers.
“If a customer walks in and they are looking at a Mercedes-Benz C300 and the sticker price is $42,500 … and their trade-in is worth $20,000, you have to ask yourself how much effort you are willing to put into this thing,” he says.
“How much are you willing to battle and let me wear you down? How much time do you want to spend wearing me down and are you willing to invest two or three hours to make that happen? Let’s say you do. At the end of three hours of going back and forth, how much do you really enjoy your car now? You hate it.”
Moreno utilizes the fact that customers these days are well-informed about car prices and what their trade-ins are worth; transparency and honesty with the customer saves time and effort.
“You know that I’m going to sell you the car for the price that’s going to be more than fair,” he says. “That creates a customer for life because they know that we will take better care of them than anybody else.”
Today, Collection Auto Group is well-established in the Cleveland market and sells all the car brands that it wants without any brand competing against another in the portfolio.
“Now that we’ve built this thing, we can take it for a drive and really expand exponentially with the brands we have right now,” Moreno says. ?
How to reach: Collection Auto Group, (440) 716-2700 or www.collectionautogroup.com
Do what you love and believe that you can make it successful.
Create a culture that separates you from competition.
Treat customers with respect and honesty and success will come.
The Moreno File
Collection Auto Group
Born: Colómbia, South America, but he grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Education: Went to University of Michigan and received his undergraduate degree in business.
Goal: To be the chairman of the board of GM
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
At 12-years-old, I delivered newspapers at 2 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale. My mom also owned three real estate offices so after delivering newspapers I went to work for her and ran the bookkeeping at 14 or 15 years old. That taught me that family businesses are a challenge, and it wasn’t something I was interested in.
What got you into cars?
When I went to Michigan I worked for Automobile magazine.
What was your first car?
A Honda CRX. I saw it on the cover of Car & Driver.
What was your favorite car you have owned?
I had an ’89 Ford Mustang GT. That was the coolest car.
If you had to choose a car to own off one of your lots, what would you choose?
Cars are like your children — you’re not supposed to have a favorite. But for me, Mercedes are the cars that I’m most passionate about. If I had to buy one car, it would be a S63 Mercedes.
In late February, Office Max and Office Depot agreed to merge, pending normal government and shareholder approvals — and while this merger had been anticipated by the financial community for many years, the reasons why this took place are all too common.
The office supply world has changed dramatically over the past 16 years. In 1997, Office Depot attempted to merge with Staples, but the courts halted this due to the potential monopoly. Since then, the rise of stronger independent dealers working in the B2B marketplace, the rise of e-commerce sales (both independent dealers and others), and department stores expanding office supply goods in the B2C marketplace have forced marketplace changes.
Is this just a temporary rearrangement of the deck chairs? There are a number of reasons that make up the failure of these two companies to make it on their own. The first reason boils down to debt.
The bottom line is that these two firms combined have nearly 2,100 stores across the United States. This in itself has created massive amounts of debt — both on the balance sheet and off the sheet too. Office Max has more than $1 billion in off balance sheet debt and $1.7 billion of debt listed on the balance sheet. In addition, there has been another $2 billion in write-downs during of the past five years.
The second lesson is having a stagnant business model heavily based on brick-and-mortar stores. This new company, as yet un-named, will have 2,100 stores nationwide. Competitor Staples will have about 2,000 stores. However, all of the self-serve stores have been in a retail retraction for a few years and have been closing or reducing the size of stores in an effort to cut costs.
What you can expect to see
In order to create a healthy balance sheet, my crystal ball tells me that, due to duplication of resources, over the next few years, you can expect closures of distribution centers, a continuation of store closings, financial write-downs, layoffs and reductions in debt. Will this be enough to please shareholders? Stay tuned.
Since Depot bought Max, will Office Depot bring all of its outsourcing back from overseas or send more out? Will the handling of customer service issues improve or decline? Some clients have been told not to order on Friday, because they won’t deliver on Monday. Will they outsource all delivery personnel?
Will these changes affect their B2B clients? It is very likely — and not in a positive way.
By far, the biggest question is whether all of these changes will impact the remaining store, B2B and e-commerce sales.
What to do right now?
Businesses should control their business destiny and not wait for their dust to settle.
Look at your company’s strategic initiatives. Many common strategic initiatives include cost cutting, vendor reduction, “buy local” and sustainability.
Take this change in the marketplace as a reminder to examine this line item in the budget — even if you aren’t using Depot/Max. As we’ve seen, there isn’t a line item in a company budget that is above scrutiny.
I’ve worked with many clients nationwide and have been able to show them a double-digit price decrease compared to self-serve stores — all the while providing a higher level of service. While the pricing makes one competitive, it’s the service level that maintains loyalty.
Caution: Businesses that look strictly on price may likely be short-changing themselves by not looking at overall value. Consider working with a local partner who can make your office run smoothly. This will lower both hard and soft dollar costs while helping achieve strategic initiatives.
Independent office supply companies carry thousands of products. They have formed their own buying consortiums to lower the cost below self-serve stores and provide nationwide delivery. These include furniture, janitorial/sanitation, coffee/breakroom and computer supplies.
If you could purchase nearly everything for the office, with a reduced number of vendors and have a favorable impact to your balance sheet — wouldn’t you make a change? ?
Bill Botkin is a sales consultant for Today’s Business Products. Contact him at (800) 536-5163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can you imagine a world without Oreo cookies? Anyone who has taken one and dipped it into a glass of milk before popping it into his or her mouth to savor the flavor would shudder at the thought of such a scenario.
But when Irene Rosenfeld returned to Kraft Foods in 2006, she found that the company was on verge of delisting the Oreo brand in China.
“We took a U.S. product and jammed it down the throats of the Chinese consumer,” Rosenfeld says. “We were losing money, and it was a very unattractive proposition. We had a $60 million factory in Beijing, which was sitting empty because sales had not materialized. So we were about to delist the product.”
Rosenfeld and her team at Kraft decided to reach out to people in China before taking such a drastic move. They asked what it would take to make the Oreo brand a success in their country.
“They very quickly told us that the product was too big and too sweet for the Chinese consumer,” Rosenfeld says. “When we allowed our local managers to redesign our product for the local taste and local customs, we had a phenomenal turnaround.”
The Chinese Oreo is smaller and less sweet and actually comes in a green tea flavor. It’s not at all what American consumers want when they open their package of Oreos, but different cultures have different tastes. Rosenfeld knew in that case she needed to adapt to earn the business of the Chinese consumers.
The effort has paid off thanks in part to China’s own Yao Ming, a former star basketball player in the United States.
“Who is the best symbol in China but Yao Ming?” Rosenfeld says. “He’s our spokesman, and we actually go to the local guy. It has been a phenomenal business in China with almost $800 million of the $2 billion business from Oreo worldwide,”
The willingness to adapt played a large part in the move completed last fall to split Kraft into two groups. Kraft Foods Group now holds the company’s North American grocery business, which is led by iconic brands such as Oscar Mayer and Maxwell House.
Kraft Foods Inc. is now Mondelez International Inc. and will focus on high-growth global snacks.
“Our dream for this company is to create delicious moments of joy,” says Rosenfeld, chairman and CEO for Mondelez. “The opportunity for us is to create a $36 billion start-up. It’s an opportunity to take an incredible roster of brands that are household names, brands like Oreo, Ritz, Chips Ahoy, Trident and Cadbury, and put those together.”
Getting to the market fast
Rosenfeld does not go so far as to say that the grocery side of the business was holding back snacks. But the two sides did require a different approach, and that created a challenge for leadership.
“North American grocery needs to be managed for cash and for margin,” Rosenfeld says. “There is a big focus there on maintaining the moderate growth but making sure it’s a very cost-focused company.
“Our global snacks business is all about growth. So the focus is on global platforms for each of our brands. The focus is on capabilities and the supply chain and sales, which will drive these products more rapidly around the world.
“The opportunity for us to be able to scale up very quickly if we are properly structured and have the proper communication from one part of the world to another is the main idea for our new company.”
The ability to make smart acquisitions of new brands and make strong connections in emerging markets will go a long way toward determining the ultimate success of Mondelez.
“The rate of consumption in the emerging markets is a fraction of what we see in developed markets,” Rosenfeld says. “So that whole investment thesis behind Mondelez is this idea of a growth company because of our geographic footprint and our category participation. It’s really depending on explosive growth, and we’re growing at a double-digit rate in these emerging parts.”
Focusing on health
It’s hard to talk about snacks and the love that people have of them without talking about obesity. Rosenfeld says the problem of people being overweight and out of shape is big in the United States, but it’s also a concern in other parts of the world.
“It’s every bit as challenging in India, and it’s on its way to markets like China,” Rosenfeld says. “It’s an issue we take quite seriously, and we look to address it in a couple of ways.”
The first part is looking at calorie intake. Efforts are ongoing to formulate products in a way that they taste good but can be enjoyed without guilt or risk to your future health and well-being.
“We continue to focus on taking things out like calories and sodium and sugar and replacing them in our products, as well as increasing the level of fiber,” Rosenfeld says. “We’re not pretending chocolate is going to be something other than it is.
“What we’re doing with products like that is to make sure the consumer has portion control. We’re making more of our candy bars scored so you can break off a piece at a time. We have resealable packaging. We’re doing a lot more single-serve products, which is good for price value and consumption.”
As for burning calories, Rosenfeld says she and her company will always do what they can to promote exercise and an active lifestyle for consumers young and old.
“We have been working very actively in partnership with organizations like KaBOOM! and with playgrounds in inner cities in this country and in programs like Healthy Schools in the U.K.,” Rosenfeld says. “We’re helping to educate children about good nutrition and the value of exercise.”
The key to being successful in providing nutritional foods to consumers, whether it be children, college students, young professionals or senior citizens, is easy to understand. But it’s often a lot more difficult to achieve in actual practice.
“Healthier products like Triscuit and Wheat Thins are growing at twice the rate as the base products,” Rosenfeld says. “There’s a clear business opportunity as well as the social responsibility. It’s not a tough sell, but what’s hard is to make sure these products taste delicious. Because at the end of the day, if it doesn’t taste good, the rest of it doesn’t matter.”
Staying in touch
From the outside, it seems like it would be a nearly impossible task to manage 100,000 employees. And while Rosenfeld has a proven track record of effective leadership and is regularly named one of the most influential leaders in the world, she agrees that managing that many people is impossible.
“The fact is I can’t manage 100,000 employees,” Rosenfeld says. “What I can do is inspire as many of the leaders of the company, then, in turn, to inspire their teams. It’s a cascading process.
“The single biggest role I play is in communication and talking about where we are going, why we are going there and what it is I need the organization to do. Then I really need the leaders to grab that and translate that mess into what it means for their folks on the ground.”
Rosenfeld spends about two-thirds of her time on the road meeting with employees and assessing whether they have what they need to succeed.
“I spend an enormous amount of time thinking about talent,” Rosenfeld says. “I look at our key roles, and I want to make sure they are operated by our top talent and that we have good career paths for those individuals as well as good succession plans behind them.”
The name change from Kraft to Mondelez has required a restating of what it means to work for this new organization.
“A lot of the work we’re doing right now is creating an employee value proposition and being explicit about what Mondelez can offer you as the prospective employee that you might not get elsewhere,” Rosenfeld says.
Empowering women to grow and succeed is another area of focus for Rosenfeld. Half of her management team is female and a third of her board is women.
“For many companies, they can legitimately say they have no one in the pipeline because they didn’t focus on that,” Rosenfeld says. “It’s a multilayered process, and it has to be a commitment from the top. I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made and we continue to talk with peers about what sort of actions we’ve taken that have contributed to our success.”
If you ask Rosenfeld for advice on how to succeed in life and in work, she says to just be yourself.
“If you’re not comfortable in the environment that you’re in, get out of it and do something else,” Rosenfeld says. “We all work too hard at what we do to not be comfortable and to feel like we have to be somebody that we’re not.”
The Rosenfeld File
Name: Irene Rosenfeld
Title: Chairman and CEO
Company: Mondelez International Inc.
Education and memberships: Rosenfeld holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, an MBA and a doctorate in marketing, all from Cornell University. She is active in a number of industry and community organizations including The Economic Club of Chicago. She also serves on the Grocery Manufacturers Association board of directors and Cornell’s board of trustees.
The path to Mondelez: She began her career in consumer research, later joining General Foods, which itself became part of Kraft Foods. Rosenfeld led the restructuring and turnaround of key businesses in the United States, Canada and Mexico. She served on the team that spearheaded the company's IPO in 2001, and successfully integrated the Nabisco, LU and Cadbury businesses.
Rosenfeld took a short break from Kraft Foods in 2004, serving for two years as chairman and CEO of Frito-Lay. While there, she accelerated growth in better-for-you products and health and wellness offerings.
She returned to Kraft Foods, the predecessor to Mondelez International Inc., in June 2006 as CEO and became chairman in March 2007, following Kraft’s spinoff from Altria Group.
How to reach: Mondelez International Inc., (855) 535-5648 or www.mondelezinternational.com
As a 20-year veteran of the insurance industry, Charlie Rosson has seen his fair share of financial uncertainty, economic downturns and business struggles. So when he was promoted to CEO of Woodruff-Sawyer & Co. on Jan. 1, 2008, Rosson recognized rather quickly that his tenure was going to coincide with all three.
“Right from the start, like everybody, we were thrown a pretty difficult set of circumstances to deal with,” says Rosson, CEO of the San Francisco-based insurance services firm. “So many businesses were impacted in terms of their sales and access to capital and their business overall. The recession impacted our clients directly, and we were challenged to respond to that by coming up with more aggressive programs for them to quickly save them money and to help a lot of them through survival mode.”
Although clients were losing revenue and facing serious financial struggles of their own, the firm still needed to find ways to keep business profitable. But many clients could also no longer afford the firm’s services and products at the same rates or prices as in the past.
Like most professional service firms, Woodruff-Sawyer needed to find ways to keep clients’ businesses afloat but also avoid losing their business.
“Obviously, we had to become more efficient in the way that we do business, and we had to recognize in a lot of cases our clients weren’t willing or didn’t have the wherewithal to pay the same type of fees or commissions that they might have before the difficult time,” Rosson says.
“The way we would structure an insurance program before the financial crisis or before things got really difficult obviously wasn’t implacable anymore. So we had to kind of come to terms and help them with declining values and property, shrinking payrolls and overall downturn.”
Finding creative ways to deliver the same types of programs for clients more affordably wouldn’t be simple, especially because each client’s business was so different.
Rosson knew that the firm needed to work much more closely with clients to figure out win-win solutions.
“We had to negotiate greatly reduced premiums for them and come up with coverages that met their needs but were at a price point that they could afford,” he says.
So as Rosson and his team began talking with clients about their changing risks and opportunities, they also asked each client for a list of must-haves.
“We really had to dig in and find out what are the things our clients truly value and what things are sort of “nice to haves” that they didn’t value as much, and frankly, weren’t willing to pay for,” Rosson says.
“We’re fortunate that the clients we serve we have a great relationship with and normally have a pretty deep dialogue with them and attempt to fully understand their business,” he says. “So we can go in and talk about the services we deliver, how they’re delivered and how the team is structured, then drill into what things are important to them. Then we ask them honest questions about what things they can live without.”
Knowing your customer’s “deal breakers” can help you pinpoint the exact value that you add for them, allowing you to identify and recommend business solutions that are cost-effective but that still meet that customer’s needs.
“What clients are looking for is value, and in our case, it’s quality of advice,” Rosson says. “It’s how do we help our clients become more successful? And oftentimes when we partner up with them and really understand their business, we can help them execute a strategy that maybe they wouldn’t be able to execute without us.”
You may see opportunities to meet the future needs of your customers as trends emerge of where their businesses are moving and as new technologies come along. For example, the recession spurred the firm’s investment in technology to help address client issues.
“The current generation of buyers has already adopted technology as a core part of the way they do business, and that curve is only going to get steeper as newer generations come into the workforce and become leaders of companies,” Rosson says. “They’re going to expect that they can interact with service providers and professionals through some sort of technology medium. They’re not going to expect the traditional back and forth model that’s defined our industry for quite a while.”
Trim the excess
Once you identify your clients’ pain points and priorities, you can begin looking for ways to serve their needs more efficiently.
Rosson realized that although Woodruff-Sawyer continued to deliver valuable services and advice for clients, the firm could save time and cost by streamlining its approach — as could its clients.
“We had to get much more efficient in terms of the way we structured our teams, and we had to use technology in ways that we hadn’t before, in terms of delivering things through the Web that may have been done before either face-to-face or through some other lower-tech way to deliver service and advice,” he says. “So we are using technology in different ways, and we’re just more careful in terms of how we assign resources to client teams.”
Rosson restructured the company’s practice teams to put the focus on having the right people in the right roles, instead of just more bodies, to cut down on unnecessary costs.
“Don’t get swept away by how much revenue you think somebody can generate or how dazzling somebody is,” Rosson says. “Really do your homework and find out what that person is all about. Are they really a fit for the organization? Do they really have the client’s best interests at heart? Can they collaborate well with others? Those are really important things.”
Another way Rosson saw to improve efficiency was integrating technologies that could make communication more user-friendly for clients. Most of the technologies Woodruff-Sawyer has deployed are collaborative, meaning they enable communication between clients and associates outside of the traditional email and face-to-face meetings. In addition to saving its clients cost and time, many changes have streamlined the firm’s processes overall.
For example, the firm now issues all of its certificates online and deployed a portal called Passport, which permits document sharing and collaboration with clients over the Web to expedite projects.
Since seeing the positive impacts, Rosson has continued to pursue a direction that involves technological innovation. Recently, the firm launched an online portal for small businesses called, BizInsure, hired a chief information officer and has made investments in online business to ramp up its overall technology component.
“I’m absolutely convinced that emerging technology is going to have a disruptive impact on our business,” he says. “And I believe it’s going to be in a positive way, and we’ll be right there to capitalize on it. The way that we’re going to interact with our clients in the future is going to be different that our traditional model.”
Enable a responsive culture
Of course, it’s difficult to devise efficient and cost-effective solutions for clients if you don’t empower employees to be creative and test their ideas. Businesses that run their organizations with a heavy-handed, top-down leadership structure can easily stifle the kind of creative, engaged culture it takes to provide the most value to clients, Rosson says.
“To be a top-tier professional services firm, by definition, you want to have professionals — and you need to treat them that way,” he says. “The way to treat them that way is to respect what they do and be there if they need advice and guidance. You have to have a certain amount of structure, but listening and not being overly prescriptive or top-down in our approach has really paid dividends.”
Rosson avoids a command and control culture at Woodruff-Sawyer by furthering the firm’s corporate vision to remain an independent brokerage firm. Being a 100 percent ESOP firm gives the company a flexible infrastructure where top people feel empowered to make decisions and operate with more freedom, he says. With no shareholders, employees are able to focus on the client and do things for clients that might be difficult under a different leadership structure.
“We’re able to do things for clients in terms of being flexible and the people who are working with clients have a lot more authority to get things done for them, deploy resources and make decisions that our competitors who might have a different ownership system can’t,” Rosson says.
“Our independence is a key part of our competitive advantage and a big part of our culture.”
The independent structure has also helped the firm attract talented employees who value autonomy and the ability to be responsible to a client’s needs. And for companies that can’t do an ESOP, leadership comes into play even more. As a CEO it’s important to set the tone for your direct reports and other employees by showing that you trust their decision-making abilities.
“I truly believe that we have the best people in the industry,” Rosson says. “These are people who have arrived at a place professionally. They don’t need me to look over their shoulder or a leader to second-guess what they are doing.”
Rosson says in the future, the firm will continue to be prudent and watching the bottom line while making investments in technology and internal perpetuation to keep the firm independent. By successfully delivering insurance services in an efficient and user-friendly way for clients, the firm has not only retained clients, it’s also been extremely successful in adding new business.
“The vast majority of our growth is organic growth through just going out and telling our story,” Rosson says. “With a lot of our competitors, and the large ones, it can be very difficult or very expensive to access very sophisticated resources. What we do is deliver those same resources or the same level of advice — or even better — but do it in a way that’s less expensive and much more user-friendly.”
As a result, Woodruff-Sawyer has grown its revenue approximately 40 percent since 2007, generating approximately $70 million in revenue in 2011.
“Like so many businesses, the downturn forced us to work smarter and more efficiently and embrace technology,” Rosson says. “As the economy has slowly improved and our clients’ businesses has improved, we’ve found that we’ve been able to leverage our technology and we haven’t had to increase our costs at the same rate that maybe we would have. So we’re actually seeing that our business is healthier now, after the downturn, than it was before.” ?
How to reach: Woodruff-Sawyer & Co.,
(415) 391-2141 or www.wsandco.com
Ask customers where your business provides the most value.
Utilize technology to cut down on time and cost in customer interactions.
Empower employees to help clients by avoiding a top-down culture.
The Rosson File
Woodruff-Sawyer & Co.
Born: San Jose, Calif.
Education: B.A. in history from UCLA
On growth: If you’ve got a very strong core business — I’m so bullish on the insurance business — you don’t need to take on too much debt or be overly grandiose in your expansion plans. Expansion and acquisitions all should be driven around acquiring people who fit into the organization, really bring something to the table and add to your organization rather than just executing a geographic growth strategy or putting pins in the map. All of your expansion should be for the right reasons, with the right people with client in mind, rather than trying to fill out (geographically) with different offices all over the place.
What is your favorite part of the business?
The best part of the business is getting out and meeting with clients and prospects. That’s why most of us got into this business and what really drives the passion for it. A lot of our relationships with clients go back 10, 15 and 30 years even. That’s the most fun part of it. I think it’s also really gratifying to successfully run the business and see the impact that you can have on employees’ lives.
What would you be doing if not for your current job?
Teaching English in Argentina
What one part of your daily routine would you never change?
Interacting with our clients and prospective clients
How do you regroup on a tough day?
I try to exercise every day.
What do you for fun?
Cooking, traveling, reading, coaching kids’ sports
Trim the excess
Enable a responsive culture
“Our independence is a key part of our competitive advantage and a big part of our culture.”
“Like so many businesses, the downturn forced us to work smarter and more efficiently and embrace technology,” Rosson says. “As the economy has slowly improved and our clients’ businesses has improved, we’ve found that we’ve been able to leverage our technology and we haven’t had to increase our costs at the same rate that maybe we would have. So we’re actually seeing that our business is healthier now, after the downturn, than it was before.”
How to reach: Woodruff-Sawyer & Co., (415) 391-2141 or www.wsandco.com
- Ask customers where your business provides the most value.
- Utilize technology to cut down on time and cost in customer interactions.
- Empower employees to help clients by avoiding a top-down culture.
The Rosson File
Woodruff-Sawyer & Co.
Born: San Jose, Calif.
Education: B.A. in history from UCLA
What is your favorite part of the business?
What would you be doing if not for your current job?
Teaching English in Argentina
What one part of your daily routine would you never change?
Interacting with our clients and prospective clients
How do you regroup on a tough day?
I try to exercise every day.
What do you for fun?
Cooking, traveling, reading, coaching kids’ sports
If you ask Doug Taylor what it’s like putting on a fireworks show, he would tell you that it’s like taking the Rolling Stones on tour. There are potentially hundreds of people involved in the background and a single show can require five or six tractor trailers, a few straight trucks and more than a week to set up, using 15 to 20 people a day.
“This should all be background for our customers,” says Taylor, president and CEO of Zambelli Fireworks. “All we want our customers and the spectators to see is 15 to 20 minutes of a fantastic display, just like the Rolling Stones really only want their spectators to see them up on stage for that hour-and-a-half concert.”
Zambelli Fireworks is one of the best-known names in the fireworks industry. The company employs 50 people year-round, increasing its employment to roughly 1,500 people around the Fourth of July. Zambelli launches 2,300 firework shows across 32 states each year with nearly 600 of them being around Independence Day.
The company puts on shows for municipalities, Major League and Minor League Baseball, the NFL, MLS, professional lacrosse, amusement parks, festivals, weddings and private parties. Productions can range in cost from $3,500 to more than $500,000.
“Our company has one of the best names in the industry,” Taylor says. “We have that, but if we don’t keep working on that every day, we’re not going to have it at some point. We have to continue to earn our reputation and that level of trust with our customers.”
That reputation, the ability to put on a fantastic show and customer service focus has been challenged recently due to three major issues that have put added pressure on Zambelli. The company has had to overcome delivery disruptions from China, the challenge of the U.S. economy, the impact of increasing raw material costs and labor problems in the Chinese market, which is the source of 95 percent of the product in the U.S.
“With those combinations we’ve seen product costs go up somewhere in the range of 45 percent in the last five years,” Taylor says.
Here is how Taylor continues to put on a great show by dealing with unexpected challenges through close relationships with vendors and customers.
Expect the unexpected
There are about 14,000 fireworks shows shot on the Fourth of July in the U.S. every year. So in 2008 when China shut down two of the four ports from where fireworks are shipped, it created a 25 to 30 percent decrease in the capacity of delivery.
“An awful lot of companies didn’t get deliveries that year and there were a significant number of shows that did not end up being shot,” Taylor says. “We ended up getting most of our deliveries that year, and with a large inventory, we survived it.”
Typically, smaller companies get in a couple of containers of product each year. They use up 90 percent of it and then order more for next year. Zambelli tends to carry over a year’s worth of inventory each year.
“That way we have a lot more cushion than smaller companies can afford to have,” he says. “That certainly helps us in a time like 2008 where the shipping was such a problem, but it doesn’t mean we had the exact inventory we wanted.”
With China controlling 95 percent of the fireworks used around the world, there really wasn’t a good alternative for Zambelli to get product from.
“You can get product out of Europe from Spain and Italy, which is extraordinary product, but it’s three to five times as expensive as what you get out of China,” Taylor says. “So that’s not a good solution. We did go out and find some pockets of product because we moved very early.
“Ultimately, we had to design our shows differently based on the product that we had available within our existing inventory.”
To help combat the issue of product availability, Zambelli put a focus on communicating with its producers in China.
“We worked for years to make sure we treated our vendors as partners and that they treated us the same way,” he says. “Because of that relationship, we began to hear early that there were going to be problems. Vendor relationships are very important — making them a partner versus just a vendor.”
Aside from problems abroad in China, Zambelli faced challenges here at home due to the poor economy. A number of the company’s customers had to rethink whether they could do a fireworks show similar to what they had done in previous years or at all.
“We saw a number of cities that had to decide where they were going to spend their money,” Taylor says.
One city in Ohio was in a position where it had to lay off more than 50 employees and as much as the leaders wanted to have a fireworks show, it was politically inappropriate to lay off staff and then spend $20,000 on a fireworks show.
“We had some communities that canceled their fireworks and a number of communities that reduced the size of their fireworks,” he says.
Zambelli has been shooting shows for some customers for more than 30 years. Maintaining those kinds of customers goes back to having a good relationship.
“We didn’t want them to begin to think about talking to somebody else, because there is always a competitor that will do it cheaper,” he says. “We worked with them and gave them as good a deal as we could possibly give them. These were customers that we had for a long time, and that’s the kind of relationships that we like to maintain.”
One of the other interesting changes that occurred during this time was that if a city couldn’t afford to pay for a show anymore, it found an outside group to take it on. Zambelli has begun helping customers find ways to afford a fireworks show if they don’t have the funds necessary.
“That’s a new role for our company and for firework companies in general,” he says. “We’re working with certain larger corporations and trying to find places where they feel it would be a good investment for their brand to go in and support a community. We’ve had to change our marketing role to where we are marketing more directly to sponsors.”
The solution to this problem again comes back to building relationships and forming partnerships.
“If you look at the crux of what a true partnership is, there are going to be ups and downs,” Taylor says. “The sooner that you can anticipate what’s going to happen, the better positioned you are to adjust to it. You have to have an open line of communication with a customer or partner.
“Keeping those lines of communication open allow you to be aware of any issues. Having that communication … helps make sure we are hearing what’s important to them.”
Improve your relationships
Due to the issues with product delivery, the economy in the U.S., the challenges of increased costs of raw materials and labor problems in China, Zambelli’s ties to its vendors and customers have had to be stronger than ever.
“Many of our customers make a decision through a purchasing agent, and they’re trained to find the best deal,” Taylor says. “The easiest way for them to find the best deal is if they said, ‘We have a $10,000 budget.’ If one company offered them 900 shells and another company offered them 925 shells, they’re going to the 925-shell company, even though they don’t fully understand how that count was come by.”
That’s one point where Zambelli will work with its customers to explain it is offering a complete event, not just a number of shells.
“We’re selling the level of trust you can have in Zambelli Fireworks because of what we’ve done for years and what we’ve done for you as a customer,” Taylor says. “We’re selling you some of the highest quality product out there. We’re selling you a safety record, which is as good as anybody’s. We’re selling an entire package. We’re not selling a count of fireworks on a page.”
This level of selling has been somewhat of a transition for the Zambelli sales force, because not only has it become more competitive over the last five years, but the Zambelli sales team has had to learn to sell a turnkey package and not let people make decisions based purely on a shell count.
“It’s been an education process to not only educate our salespeople, but for them to turn around and educate our customers so they can make better decisions,” he says. “The more understanding customers have about each decision they make and why those decisions are important, the more likely they are to hire us.
“We have to develop a level of trust with our customers that they know we’re going to deliver that fantastic show. We’re focused on maintaining and improving a high level of service to our customers and maintaining our reputation.”
How to reach: Zambelli Fireworks, (800) 245-0397 or www.zambellifireworks.com
Be prepared for unexpected challenges.
Form strong partnerships with your vendors.
Find ways to improve relationships with customers.
The Taylor File
President and CEO
Born: Port Arthur, Texas
Education: Attended North Carolina State University where he received a BS degree in science education and in zoology. He also received a MBA from Indiana University in Bloomington.
What was your very first job? What did that experience teach you?
The first job I had where I was working for someone else was mowing lawns at the age of 12 or 13. The first job I viewed as a real job was working in high school at a hardware store. What I learned there more than anything was the value of customer service.
When did you get into fireworks?
The first idea I ever envisioned of being involved with a fireworks company was in early 2007. I started work as the president and CEO of Zambelli in late May 2007.
What do you like most about fireworks?
It’s a fascinating industry, and it’s related to what I said about taking the Rolling Stones on the road. It is the entertainment business and although there are all kinds of technical and regulatory issues we deal with, at the end of the day if the spectators and the customer are happy with the result, then we entertained them.
Do you have a favorite Zambelli show?
At the Kentucky Derby Festival, we have two sets of barges that are each 600 feet long in the river and in the middle is a bridge that we shoot off of 3,200 feet of bridge. We’re able to fill the sky where people miles up and down the river are watching the show. The magnitude of that is incredibly impressive. On one side it’s the emotion and importance of the event to the community, and the other end is just the artistry and magnitude of what can be done.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
My father taught me that the thing that you can’t give up is that level of trust that people have to have in you.
Have you rethought your opinion of someone because of something they’ve posted on social media? Social media has blurred the line between business and personal acquaintances, with most people having both personal and professional contacts linked to their pages on social platforms such as Facebook.
Social media creates an environment where many of our social filtering inhibitions disappear, and people tend to feel freer in expressing views they would not otherwise express in real-life social and business settings.
We witnessed the best and worst of friends, family, business colleagues and acquaintances during the 2012 presidential election. In the offline world, most of us would refrain from lambasting someone for expressing their opinion. Most of us, however, would not begin verbal attacks against the individual or the candidates.
The election was an eye-opener
The presidential election shed light on the impact that the things we post on social networks has on our relationships with others. Forty-seven percent of respondents to a poll conducted by Mashable had unfriended someone on Facebook because of election-related issues.
Even if you did not actually unfriend someone, think about those you might be avoiding as a result of their comments or whose update settings you’ve changed to take them out of your active friend feed. Conversely, are your business colleagues or acquaintances taking these same actions against you?
Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project has conducted several surveys about people’s use of social networking sites for politics and personal political interaction. Here are some of the findings:
- 60 percent of American adults use either social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, and 66 percent of those social media users, or 39 percent of all American adults, have done at least one social media civic or political engagement activity.
- 22 percent of registered voters shared their presidential vote on social media.
- 22 percent say they avoid making political comments on social media sites for fear of offending others.
- 67 percent of those who blocked, unfriended or hid someone on a social networking site did it to a distant friend or acquaintance.
- 21 percent of those who blocked, unfriended or hid someone on a social networking site did it to a co-worker.
- 16 percent have friended or followed someone because the person shared the user’s political views.
When it comes to blocking, unfriending or hiding someone on social media, overpolitical postings are often the reason why. The biggest complaints regarded someone posting too frequently about political subjects, posting something a user disagreed with or found offensive, and arguing about politics with the user or someone they know.
The loss of anonymity
For better or worse, the presidential election opened the floodgates of online bashing and heated arguments. In the early days of online interaction, most sites and media outlets allowed users to identify themselves using pseudonyms or user names rather than their true-life identities. That cloak of anonymity allowed many users to dispose of their inhibitions and interact as they would not otherwise in a real-world setting.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a shift from the use of pseudonyms or user handles to sites that now require comments and engagement be tied to social media profiles on Facebook that reveal our real names, along with potentially allowing viewers access to our personal and professional identifying information — including employment information.
When you see someone boldly expressing themselves across social media platforms, it has the repercussion of not only fragmenting relationships but also making you lose respect for ones you have always respected. It puts people in a different light and has the potential to make you rethink who you would want to do business with.
Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria Social Media Marketing and Online Reputation Management, Shazaaam Public Relations and Marketing Communications, and Promo Marketing Team, which conducts product sampling, mobile tours and events. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @alenhoff.
Richard Chambers spent 36 years working for organizations that were always operating under the watchful eye of the taxpayers. Anyone who knows anything about how things work in the government sector understands that a great deal of patience is usually required.
When he moved into his new role as president of Molina Healthcare of California in August, much of that went away. Instead of reporting to taxpayers, he was now reporting to shareholders.
“The challenge was being able to adapt to everything I had learned in the previous positions and adapt it to help Molina and to learn the private sector,” Chambers says. “What does it mean to be in a publicly traded company and meet those expectations?”
It’s not easy when you step into a new organization as the CEO. You face all the same challenges that any new employee has to deal with, such as where is the copier, who do I talk to about getting some business cards and where does everyone eat lunch?
But in addition to all of that, you’re the CEO. You may be new, but you’ve got employees looking to you as their boss and expecting you to act accordingly.
Chambers says it’s best if you don’t give it too much thought and just try to be yourself.
“People are very forgiving,” Chambers says. “They don’t have to think you’re the smartest guy or the coolest guy on the block. They just want to know you’re attempting to do your job and that you do want to listen to what they have to say as employees.”
So that’s what Chambers has done. Molina is part of Molina Healthcare Inc., which generated $4.77 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2011. Chambers has spent his first months on the job getting familiar with his employees and what they do and working to identify areas that with improvement could make his 259-employee division even better.
“When you first come in, you have to understand the culture of the organization,” Chambers says. “You have to get to know the staff that works for you and your leaders to gauge their knowledge and abilities and understand how the company operates.”
One thing he won’t do as he gets more comfortable with his new position is make assumptions.
“People step in and they assume that because they have so much experience doing the same kind of work, they assume that they know it all and they want to impose what may have worked in previous positions on the new organization very quickly,” Chambers says.
Here’s a look at why that approach doesn’t work and how Chambers has gone about gaining the respect of his new team.
Be a good listener
Before you try to put your foot down and make a big impression on your company, you need to know whether that impression actually needs to be made.
“Sometimes there are situations where change needs to happen pretty quickly because it’s a broken organization,” Chambers says. “But oftentimes as you step into the organization, you’re coming in as a new leader for the future, but the organization is not broken.”
The latter situation is one when you need to keep your thoughts to a minimum, ask a lot of questions and listen to the responses. To do otherwise causes a lot of stress.
“It usually creates a lot of havoc and uneasiness about the transition,” Chambers says. “As a leader, you have folks who work for you and they become distrustful of what your agenda is. What’s the security of their positions?”
You need to take advantage of the attentiveness that you have in those early days as a leader. They say that when a new president takes office in the White House, he or she never has a higher approval rating than during those first 100 days. You usually get a similar kind of honeymoon period, albeit on a smaller scale, as a new CEO.
“People look to you as the top leader,” Chambers says. “They want to respect you, believe in you and follow you. It’s important for leaders to capitalize on that. People will give you a lot of room knowing that you’re learning the organization. But you have to step into that expectation and run with it.”
Running with it doesn’t mean making across-the-board changes that show you’re in charge. It means talking to the people who have been there about what has been working what needs to be tweaked or maybe even completely changed.
“Most of the time, you’re inheriting a senior staff that has been around for a while,” Chambers says. “They know what’s going on, what’s broken and what needs to be fixed and what you as a new leader can help them do. You need to listen to them.”
It’s not that you’re taking off your CEO hat as much as you’re going in with a sense of trust and hoping that the trust is reciprocated. If you find that it’s not, you can do what needs to be done.
“You’re learning if you can trust that senior leadership team,” Chambers says. “Pretty quickly, you can evaluate who you can trust and who you might need to watch a little more closely as to what they are informing you about. Be a good listener and a quick study. Attend meetings and understand how the organization works.”
Don’t limit yourself to the senior management team as you get familiar with the company. Make an effort to talk to people at all levels.
“The leaders aren’t the only ones who probably know what needs attention from you as the leader,” Chambers says. “It doesn’t take much time before you can figure out where you need to spend your time and intervention in the short term as you figure out what you’re going to do in the long term to help the strategic direction of the company.”
Just do it
If you’re the kind of CEO who struggles with relating to your employees on a personal level, especially when you’re a new CEO, Chambers says you need to get over it.
“They’ll respect you for whatever your personality is, whether they know that you’re totally comfortable or not,” Chambers says. “The key is that you engage in the effort to listen to what they have to say. Schedule meetings, make yourself visible, walk around. It may not be the thing that a leader is naturally comfortable doing.
“But it certainly does make a big impression and does help the staff commit to following you as a leader who they think wants to try to connect and understand what they are going through as employees of that company.”
You won’t be able to get to know everybody in a close way in your first month or maybe even in your first year on the job. But if you keep working at it and keep talking to people, you’ll make an impression.
Molina has three regional offices outside of Los Angeles County and has made it a point to visit each office and help employees get to know him as he gets to know them.
“I got introduced, talked about myself and my background and what I hoped to achieve being the new president,” Chambers says. “Then I got a chance to meet them individually in those meetings, who they were, how they ended up here and how long they had been here. So it was a good opportunity.”
Even if you’re not a new CEO, regular opportunities to interact with your people are a good idea to keep the lines of communication open between you and your staff.
“We’d have a lunch about every three weeks in which 10 to 12 staff would come in and we’d bring in lunch and we’d sit for 90 minutes with those staff,” Chambers says. “It was an opportunity to talk very openly and candidly. I’d talk about what was going on in the organization, but it also gave the staff opportunities to ask questions in a very safe environment.”
When you do find areas that you feel are in need of change, you want people to believe that you’re considering change to make things better and to increase the odds of a successful outcome.
If you get people who think the old way is the best way and shouldn’t be changed, you need to take a constructive approach.
“I like to challenge them by asking, ‘Are you getting the results that you want with the way you’re doing it today?’” Chambers says. “Here are some examples that I have used in other companies I’ve worked for and it seems to have worked. What do you think about that? How about if we try changing what we’re doing now? You get them off of, ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it and that’s the way we want to do it.’”
In these ongoing difficult economic times, many people view change through the prism of how it might affect their job security. Chambers is confident that his team feels secure and knows his primary goal is to ensure that his people have the resources they need to do their jobs.
But he understands why employees get nervous about their future. He says the best way to ease those fears is to encourage employees to work hard.
“What we always emphasize is there are no guarantees for anyone in any job,” Chambers says. “It’s important to work hard and try to develop yourself and learn new skills and have opportunities to progress in the organization. That’s really on them. They have to demonstrate their worth to the company.
“If you do a good job and show up every day and do all the right stuff, it’s pretty assured that you’re going to be valued by the organization. That’s what everybody should do as they approach every day at work. How can I help the organization and work as hard as I can?”
It’s a question you need to ask yourself too. And as you’re getting around and talking to people and making things happen, you can’t forget to give yourself time to do your job.
“It’s finding balance in your schedule,” Chambers says. “If you find you’re doing nothing but putting out fires every day, you’re really not serving the goal of forward-thinking. I read a management book once and one of the biggest recommendations was there have to be chunks of time in your schedule every day in which you get time to think.”
In other words, if you’re always in a meeting or on the phone or analyzing a sales report, you could be neglecting a big-picture topic that you need to be thinking about. You have a leadership team for a reason.
“Sometimes you have to leave it up to them to be the ones who are doing the day-to-day management,” Chambers says. “There’s no way the president or CEO of the company can do both of those. Otherwise they are doing a disservice if they are not focusing on what their leadership role is for the organization.” <<
How to reach: Molina Healthcare of California,
(888) 665-4621 or www.molinahealthcare.com
Richard Chambers, president, Molina Healthcare of California
The Chambers File
Born: Quincy, Mass.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology, University of Virginia.
Why did you choose psychology?
I was feeling my way through and decided psychology sounded like something I was interested in. I was going to go on to law school after my undergraduate degree, but I ended up deciding to go work for the federal government and stayed for 27 years.
My whole working career has been working on the Medicaid program and health care for low-income populations.
Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?
I would say my father. It was integrity and honesty and the importance of working hard. One of the things I always remember is he said it doesn’t matter what you do in life for a job, just make sure that when you’re finished doing it, you’ve made it better than the way you found it. That’s what I’ve tried to do with every organization I’ve been in. When I leave or change jobs, I want people to say it’s a better place for me having been there and people are better for having been there.
What one person would you really like to meet?
President Obama. He’s the leader of the United States and has probably the toughest job in the world. I’d love to understand what it means to sit in that position, what it means to be a leader and what lessons I could learn from him.
Listen before you act.
Don’t worry so much about being cool.
Get people excited about opportunity.
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