STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
Transportation & Logistics
The partnership between Artur Wagrodzki and Tomasz Tokarczyk, current presidents of Artur Express, started when, at a young age, they became neighbors in New York. Their families had emigrated from Poland and both men didn’t know any English.
Today, they’ve acclimated and thrived through hard work and refusing to give up with things get tough.
First working as black car service phone operators and dispatchers, Wagrodzki and Tokarczyk used their knowledge of the logistics of the transportation industry to start Artur Express in 1998. They had one company truck and a trailer.
Initially, the two focused on providing and managing drivers and freight rather than trucks. But in 2006, the company headed in a new direction to accommodate customer requests and invested in company-owned trailers and driver education. This embodies their leadership and management style of controlled risk-taking.
By focusing on providing quality customer service and timely deliveries, the company’s reputation has grown at an astonishing rate. In the 15 years of operation, Artur Express has not experienced a year where the company did not outperform the previous years.
The company has an operations team of more than 60 that works out of its St. Louis headquarters and five satellite offices to field a fleet of 375 trucks.
Another key to success has been employing the right technology to help the company simplify and streamline processes to better serve customers and the drivers, often by developing its own software.
Wagrodzki and Tokarczyk maintain a philosophy of treating their drivers with care and providing employee benefits that create a competitive advantage in an industry with high turnover. That treatment crosses over to the corporate employees, who can receive increased payouts as the company exceeds expectations and benchmarks.
Their idea of running a successful company has always been to keep everyone involved by working through failures and achievements as a team.
How to reach: Artur Express, www.arturexpress.com
STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
Matthew J. Condon
ARC Physical Therapy+
Growing up on a farm in rural Iowa, Matthew J. Condon learned nothing in this world comes easily. But it was after he was injured on the Iowa State University football field that he understood the importance of exceptional physical therapy.
Starting ARC Physical Therapy+ 10 years ago with the goal of simply providing excellent physical therapy service, ARC has grown to be an information technology company that is redefining employer wellness programs by utilizing technology and data reporting to build customized programs.
ARC sets itself apart by giving clients innovative protocols, outcome reporting and management, and adopting of some of the industry’s leading-edge technologies and processes. For example, ARC tracks data to tell who would be the best medical care provider to an employee, based on the injury sustained and the employee’s demographics.
As CEO, Condon has successfully grown the company from a one-site physical therapy location with 300 patient visits to a multi-location business now serving 75,000-patient visits per year.
While the core business remains unchanged, the company’s tremendous growth has been the result of an environment where employees strive to meet the highest industry standards with creativity and innovation. Nearly all of the walls of ARC’s corporate office are painted with a special paint that essentially acts as one big whiteboard. This allows for a personalized workspace and the ability to freely brainstorm new ideas.
In line with the company’s external data reporting, Condon created a system to internally track therapist data related to patient service, creating a healthy sense of competition.
Even with the challenge of navigating the impacts of health care reform, Condon takes great pride in the fact that ARC has absolutely no debt.
In the future, he plans to start expanding into new geographic areas in Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma, while specifically targeting areas in the 17 states where workers’ compensation is employer directed.
How to reach: ARC Physical Therapy+, www.arcpt.com
STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
president and CEO
Insituform Technologies was facing stagnant revenues, low earnings and a proxy battle with a major shareholder in 2008 when Joe Burgess took on the challenging role of president and CEO.
Now, not only has Burgess’s entrepreneurial spirit and fresh perspective reinvigorated the company, creating a trajectory of significant growth and diversification, but he also transformed the firm with a series of acquisitions and a new name — Aegion Corp.
So, how did Burgess completely change the culture and direction of company and its existing base business as a municipal government contractor to more than double revenues since 2007? He did so by not being afraid to think unconventionally. Burgess moved a company with a rich 40-year history into more profitable energy markets to become a global pipeline protection and rehabilitation business.
To start the company’s overall diversification strategy, Burgess held his first Evergreen Strategy Process, which gathered the entire management team to discuss new ideas, products, markets and service offerings. The strategy sessions continue today on a quarterly basis.
Burgess’s mantra was that “no good idea will go unfunded.” He motivated employees to stretch themselves when thinking of new ideas and product offerings.
He also created a pay-for-performance culture and compensation programs for executives and employees. Burgess recognizes compensation is typically the single greatest motivator of retaining high-performing individuals, and thus “one size fits all” is not sufficient.
Burgess’s innovation, which has become part of the company culture, has led to new technology being used in copper mines in South America and a workforce that has more than 300 engineers dedicated to creating complete engineering solutions to customers’ complex structural integrity problems.
In addition, Burgess is a strong believer in corporate responsibility. He started the practice of setting aside company funds to be used for charitable activities, as well as capturing employee man-hours that are contributed to charity.
How to reach: Aegion Corp., www.aegion.com
In any business, a group of employees can consist of a diverse group of people. Differences in race, creed, color, sex, national origin and religion can bring a melting pot of perspectives and talent to the daily pursuit of your company’s mission. Proper management of these generations and a greater focus on the differences among them can enrich your business and ultimately your bottom line.
Building a diverse workforce has been a mantra in business for quite some time and as we become more effective at building that diversity, differences in each generation’s approach will begin to surface. Management and leaders of businesses must begin to recognize that their personal approach and desire may not deliver the same desired results in the future.
Leaders need to understand the personal needs and motivators of individuals within their organization. Individual and generational views of health care, vacation, promotions, bonuses, retirement, loyalty, authority, work hours, work approach, communication, work-life balance, etc. are quite different based on personal needs and expectations. Having polices aiming for one-size fits all will simply not work.
Here are a few characteristics of each generation that could dramatically impact how work gets done in your business:
This generation is accustomed to personal interaction. They enjoy teams and a take a collegial approach to most challenges. They tend to be workaholics and are willing to work during time typically reserved for home and family. They’re interested in being rewarded for that dedication whether it comes in a bigger bonus or further advancement.
Alternative appreciation such as more time off or vacation usually does not do the trick. This is a group that receives much satisfaction from work. This group relies on its healthcare and is looking forward to retirement.
This generation is much more independent. However, they have disdain for rigid work hours and authority in general. They lack trust in institutions and corporations in general, which fits with their independent nature.
They are extremely savvy with computers and technology. The group is adaptive to change and will accept a number of job moves in their lifetimes. They work to live, not the other way around.
Generation Y / Millennials
This generation is likened to next level Gen Xers, meaning they take all the same characteristics further on the trend line. They question authority more and they challenge the status quo. Typically, they expect instant responses and are in touch almost real time with the world around them. They are multi-taskers and leave Gen X slightly behind with their knowledge of technology and the growing world of social media.
Telecommuting would be a fine option for them. They’re also very interested in quality of life and are interested in a good ratio of work/life balance. They are open-minded to differences and expect diversity.
Now that we know a little more about the differences inside the generations represented in the workplace, we can make good decisions accordingly. This knowledge is powerful when dealing with important tasks such as hiring and recruiting and how that may relate to the relocation of a key player inside your organization.
It can help you schedule meetings around preferences on work hours and access to information, and it can be worth its weight in gold relative to the retention of key team members and how you structure your compensation and benefits system for maximum impact.
Embracing the differences in your workforce relative to their generation may provide you with important information in order to make the correct choice on key decision points. Chances are that discussion with your team of HR practitioners and a little research in the areas we covered is all you need to make the most of your team.
Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or email@example.com
“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships were built for,” is a quote that hangs in Brig Sorber’s office at Two Men and a Truck in Lansing, Mich. Sorber uses that quote to define the new direction in which his company has been moving.
“I love that quote because this ship, Two Men and a Truck, has been in port for too long,” says Sorber, CEO. “We’ve got to get this into deep blue water. There are a lot of challenges out there and a lot more risk, but that’s where business is done. We need to start moving forward and accept the challenges.”
Sorber and his brother, Jon, started Two Men and a Truck International Inc., a moving company, in the early ’80s as a way to earn money using their ’67 Ford pickup. Today, the business has x4,500 employees, more than x1,400 trucks, more than x200 franchises in x34 states, Canada, the U.K. and Ireland, and 2012 revenue of x$361 million.
“We did it to make beer and book money for college,” Sorber says. “We really never thought that it would get to this point.”
However, in getting to this point, the company had neglected to make necessary changes in order to keep the operation aligned and running well.
“One of the challenges we have had is going from a mom-and-pop-type business to having to grow up and become more corporate,” Sorber says. “We needed to bring in newer and stronger skill sets.”
Here’s how Sorber has helped Two Men and a Truck grow up.
Two Men and a Truck incorporated its first business in Lansing, Mich., in 1985 and began franchising in 1989. The company at this time was run by Sorber’s mom since he and his brother were in college.
Upon graduation, Sorber worked as an insurance agent and also operated his own Two Men and a Truck franchise. He returned to the company in the mid-’90s, became its president in 2007 and CEO, the title he carries today, in 2009. In that time the company had grown significantly, but it wasn’t running as well as it could be. Starting in 2007, Sorber’s job was to help restructure the business.
“We had to take a look at ourselves internally,” Sorber says. “There came a time that I just knew things were broken here.”
Because the company was growing so fast there was no organization chart. It was very loose on who reported to whom. It wasn’t that people weren’t working hard, but things were not getting measured.
“I had an epiphany that something had to change big time,” he says. “I made up something that resembled an org chart on a big piece of paper in my office. I brought in five people that I greatly trusted and had confidence in and gave them three markers — green, which meant that person or that job was important; yellow, which meant I didn’t have an opinion either way about this person or about this job; and red, which meant that this job makes no sense.”
Sorber used that as a starting point to help him identify where the company could restructure and cut costs.
“I wanted to give big bonuses to everyone at the end of the year and share the winnings, but we had to prime the pump first,” he says. “We went from 78 employees down to 51 employees after I went through that chart.
“That wasn’t because we were losing money. It was because by the time we realigned everything, there were some people here who weren’t doing anything.”
To avoid issues such as this, you have to have metrics that you measure to make sure whether you’re doing well or not.
“My metrics are No. 1, customer satisfaction,” Sorber says. “Find out how every one of your customers feels about their service. No. 2 is trucks and driveways. We want to put more trucks in more driveways every year.
“No. 3 is franchisees. Make sure your franchisees are profitable and have the tools to grow. No. 4 is giving back to the community.”
Metrics are a crucial aspect of success, but so is a mission statement that helps employees and customers know what the business is about. It also makes your decisions as a CEO simple.
“If your mission statement is strong, it should be limitless,” he says. “For us, we had our mission statement when we had 25 franchises, and now we’re well over 200 and it still applies. You also need core values that comprise what’s important to your company. Once you have those, you have to stay within the confines of your core values.
“When I was a younger executive I thought that was stuff you say to be nice. It’s something that’s serious. You can’t go into work and keep turning the wheel and expect better things to happen. You’ve got to maintain your mission statement, core values, measure what you’re doing, and then you have to look for ways to make things better.”
Bring in key people
As Two Men and a Truck went through these necessary changes, new employees and executives had to be brought in to give the company the right skill sets to continue growing.
“Sometimes we hold onto our executives too long, and we get comfortable with them,” Sorber says. “They may not question what you’re doing. Not all of them, but many of them can be fine with the status quo and as the world is changing they’re not forcing you as a CEO to question what you’re doing.”
You can’t settle for the people who are in your key positions. You need to find people with the right skill sets and make sure they stay within your mission statement and core values.
“Bringing in new individuals is kind of like working on an old house,” he says. “You think if you put new windows on the house it’s good, but then the siding looks really bad. The same thing happens in business when you get somebody that’s great in a department. You start to think, ‘What if I had someone like that in marketing?’”
Sorber brought in executives to fill his company’s voids, and they began offering all kinds of new ideas for the business.
“When I started bringing in these key executives, they wore my carpet out because they have fresh eyes for the business,” he says. “They asked why we did this or that. Many of the things we were doing were the right things, but it’s good for you to make your point about why you do it.
“The new executives will say, ‘That makes sense’ or ‘That’s different.’ Other times they’ll say, ‘OK, but did you ever think about doing this?’”
That is how your business goes through an evolution, and it starts bringing in more modern thinking and different approaches. A business will have a life cycle of only so long, and you need to continually reinvent it because your customer is changing. If you bring in new people they may bring the great ideas you need.
“It’s really important as a president or CEO to hire people who are smarter than you in their specific fields,” Sorber says. “Our job as president or CEO is to look more strategically at where we want the business, make sure the executives play nice together, ensure there’s harmony in the business and keep an eye on those important metrics.”
During the course of the past six years, Sorber has been able to successfully do all those things within Two Men and a Truck. Randy Shacka became the company’s first non-family member to serve as president in 2012. Now, Sorber and Shacka are looking at the future outlook of the business.
“We think we will be a $1 billion company by the year 2020,” he says. “In the last few years we’ve been doing a lot of internal work on fixing where we are broken and getting the right people in here. Now we want to be more than just a moving company. We want to be a company for change.”
How to reach: Two Men and a Truck, (800) 345-1070 or www.twomenandatruck.com
Many executives do not view the content they distribute as intertwined with their organization’s unique product or service. However, the two are interchangeable. Your product or service has differentiators that cause your clients to select you instead of the competition. Those same factors apply in content marketing.
If your goal is to engage prospects and ultimately lead them to conversion, you must create content that keeps them engaged. Success comes from creating consumable pieces of content that together form a singular thought leadership message and distributing those pieces across multiple channels. You never know through what channel someone will engage with your brand (or branded content), so the message needs to be consistent.
There are a few simple rules to doing this. Your content and what you’re selling should meet four criteria. It must be:
Useful means the content, as well as your product or service, has a defined use for a target audience. It addresses:
- How do I use this?
- How does this help me?
- What problem does this solve for me?
Here’s an example: According to a recent IDC Research report, 49 percent of the entire U.S. population currently uses a smartphone. By 2017, that number is expected to reach 68 percent. That means that within four years, more than two out of every three Americans — regardless of age — will be connected via smartphone. Therefore, a useful product a company might offer could be a solar-operated phone charger. And useful content to distribute to a target audience may include “How to make your daily life easier with these top five iPhone apps.”
To be Relevant, the product, service or content must be new and interesting, and mean something to the market or industry. Your audience will ask:
- What does this mean to me?
- Do I need this?
Let’s say your organization provides a website portal that connects insurance companies. New and interesting content that means something might be, “How your health care plan will be affected by reform . . . and what you can do to prepare for it.”
In a world filled with noise, you must demonstrate how what you do is Differentiated from competitors and explain:
- How does your content, product and service compare to the competition?
- Is it unique?
Let’s go back to the smartphone example. If you sell or service iPhones and Android-platform models, think about creating engaging content that examines the needs of today’s smartphone user, and then go beyond the basic functionality.
It’s also imperative to understand your target audience and the target audience for each product. Android-based smartphones are primarily aimed at businesspeople. iPhones, for all their bells and whistles, are not. This differentiation has led to a lot of confusion in the marketplace when consumers compare one against the other. Understanding this allows smart marketers to create engaging content such as “The top 10 needs of businesspeople: A comparison of Android phones vs. iPhones.”
Finally, your product, service and content must be Available and easily obtained in any channel.
If you run a benefits company that works with employers, for example, health care reform provides a timely opportunity to help clients make sense of the landscape. This might entail delivering a variety of consumable content that’s available to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through any channel.
This could include a video that explains the difference in options available to employers. It could be a social media campaign that outlines the top five differences between the health care insurance exchanges and employer-sponsored health care. Or, it may be a series of print mailers or webinars, or even a dedicated microsite that’s filled with content that details what employers need to know.
When your goal is creating engaging content, your ability to consider — and address — each of these factors may be what’s required to transform engagement into measurable conversion.
This is no fish story. Instead, this column is about one of the most important roles an owner or CEO must fulfill on an ongoing basis.
Leaders spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the issues du jour. These range from managing people, wooing and cajoling customers, creating strategies, searching for elusive answers and just about everything in between. These are all good and necessary tasks and undertakings. Too frequently, however, these same leaders delegate this effort to others or ignore it altogether. To be “in the game,” you have to know when to fish or cut bait.
Successful fishermen know that to catch a fish they have to sometimes cast their lines dozens of times just to get a nibble or bite. The first bite might not result in reeling in that big fish. Frequently, a nibble is just a tipoff as to where the fish are swimming.
The same applies to reaching out — casting a line, if you will, to explore new, many times unorthodox, opportunities for your organization. These opportunities can be finding a competitor to buy, discovering an unlikely yet complementary business to partner with or snagging a new customer from an industry that had heretofore gone undiscovered.
All of this takes setting a portion of your time to investigate unique situations, as well as a healthy dose of creativity and the ability to think well beyond the most obvious.
Too many times even the most accomplished executives lack the motivation to look for ideas in unlikely places. Some would believe that it’s unproductive to spend a significant amount of time on untested “what ifs.” Just like sage fishermen, executives can also cultivate their own places to troll.
Of course, networking is a good starting point, particularly with people unrelated to your business, where sometimes one may fortuitously stumble onto a new idea that leads to a payoff.
Other times, a hot lead might come from simply reading trade papers, general media reports and just surfing the Internet. The creative twist is reading material that doesn’t necessarily apply to your own industry or to anything even close to what you do. New ideas come disguised in many forms and are frequently hidden in a variety of nooks and crannies. This means training yourself to read between the lines.
Once something piques your imagination, the next step is to follow through and call the other company or send an inquiry by email to state that it might be worth a short conversation to explore potential mutually beneficial arrangements. This can at times be a bit frustrating and futile. That's when you cut bait and start anew.
However, reaching out to someone today could materialize into something of substance tomorrow. The often skipped but critical next step, even after hitting a seemingly dead end, is to always close the loop with whomever you made contact. Even if there is no apparent fit or interest at the moment, it’s easy and polite to send a short note of thanks and attach your one-paragraph “elevator” pitch.
That same person just might be casting him or herself, be it in a month or even a year later, and make contact with a different organization that’s not a fit for him or her, but recall you because you followed through and created awareness about your story.
This just might lead the person with whom you first spoke to call you because you had had the courtesy to send that note. Bingo — you just got a bite all because of continuing to cast your line.
Good CEOs and honest fishermen also have one other important characteristic in common: humility. They know that when a line is cast it won’t result in a catch every time. But if nothing is ventured, it’s guaranteed there will be nothing gained. Don’t let that big one get away. Just keep casting.
As an organization grows, changes are inevitable.
New employees are added, promotions are made and job responsibilities shift.
But any time you have change, you have the potential for conflict. Few people are comfortable with change, and each person will react differently in making the adjustments necessary to move forward with the company.
The most important thing a CEO can do is to be active in confronting potential conflict. Conflict goes hand-in-hand with change. Employees begin to question management, co-workers and even themselves as they are forced outside of their comfort zones. Those questions can lead to misunderstandings that can lead to conflict, and that will ultimately slow your growth.
Don’t passively avoid potential conflict. Instead, actively engage members of your organization by providing the necessary forums both for you to communicate your strategy and vision and for them to communicate their concerns back to you. An active conversation will help drive your vision for the company through the organization and will also help foster your next generation of leaders as they take a more active role.
Only when employees are challenged to think — and to challenge you — will you maximize your organization’s potential. Do you want employees who don’t speak up when they recognize what may be a fatal flaw in your grand strategy? Or would you rather have employees who are actively thinking about the big-picture goals of the company and doing their part to contribute?
Regardless of what size company you run, it comes down to a simple choice.
It’s a choice between having employees acting like robots or acting like people. If you choose robots, you will have to have all the answers. If you choose people, you only have to have some of the answers because the employees will help you find the rest.
Engaging employees in conversations, meetings and decision-making helps them take ownership and helps you create a happier work force. If they are not allowed to speak, gossip and rumors will drag down your productivity.
Actively provide two-way communication. Let employees do the talking and hear what they have to say. The results may surprise you. Those closest to the customer often know best what needs to be done to improve sales, service or efficiency.
Too many CEOs lament the lack of good people to help take them to the next level. Maybe the problem is more CEOs need to create good people rather than driving them off with a work environment that’s better suited to a good robot.
Every Company is a Media Company. It’s a phrase coined some eight years ago by tech journalist Tom Foremski to describe the impact of technology on marketing.
From the Internet to Wi-Fi to smartphones, a tectonic shift has taken place with technology forever changing the landscape of marketing, just as radio and television did before.
Only this time, it’s different. This time, the power has shifted from the hands of a few hundred powerful media outlets to the hands of billions of consumers.
At the same time, companies like yours have been handed powerful tools and an unparalleled opportunity to engage with customers like never before. It’s not just in the obvious new places like mobile websites, apps and the media. Technology has made it easier and cheaper to communicate through video, live events and, yes, even print publications.
Like it or not, you are a media company.
So what’s a media mogul like you to do? You need to do one thing: create content. And you need to do it well. You need to create content that generates interest among your target customer base and engages them with your organization.
It might sound easy, but it’s not. Most business leaders know that effective communication is one of the biggest challenges any company faces. When that communication is what sets you apart in the minds of your customers and prospects, the stakes are all the higher.
Here are a few important points to keep in mind as you set about embracing your new role as a media company.
Be where your audience is
Content comes in many forms. Most of us 40- or 50-something business executives are more comfortable reading printed material. Flipping through your brochure, newsletter or even your own custom magazine is comfortable for us. So hand us something.
But younger VPs and 20-somethings — many of whom do the heavy lifting of researching company buying decisions — are more comfortable gaining intel online. They scour videos on YouTube, mine infographics on visual.ly and peruse PowerPoints on SlideShare. So take the time to figure out which of these is the right channel to reach your target customer.
Share knowledge, not platitudes
Yeah, we get it. Your people are smarter, their customer service is better and their breath smells fresher longer. But that’s not why we might be interested in your business.
What we want to know is how you’re going to solve our problems and make our lives easier. We don’t want you to tell us you are smarter; we want you to show us you are smarter.
Thought leadership articles, white papers and blog posts showcase your knowledge of industries, issues and tactics. They differentiate you from your competitors and position you as a subject matter expert in your market.
Talk about customers more than yourself
The best communicators are great storytellers. Stories resonate. They connect us. They are, simply, what we remember.
Sharing client success stories is one of the best ways to tell your own story. The tried-and-true case study is one of the most effective forms of content in a marketer’s arsenal. If you show us how you can make our businesses faster, better, stronger, we will do business with you. It’s that simple.
And if you have particularly well known and respected clients, you get the added benefit of basking in their reflected glory. Welcome to the media business. Now go tell your story.
Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business Network and SBN Interactive. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7078.
When Ted Turner launched CNN, there were plenty of people who said a 24-hour news network would never fly.
But Turner saw a problem: He enjoyed watching the news, but his busy schedule typically had him missing the standard news broadcast time. That’s when he got the idea: What if the news was on all the time? He couldn’t be the only one who was unable to fit a regular broadcast into his schedule, so he knew the demand was there.
The next step was to dream big. What if the news was on all the time, not just locally, not just regionally, but nationally and even internationally? The result was the first 24-hour cable news network. It took a lot of effort to get CNN to where it is today, but Turner’s dream was realized. His big dream yielded a big result.
People need to dream big. If you never take the time to dream big, great things probably aren’t going to happen for you.
We have the power to visualize our future. A professional athlete visualizes hitting the game-winning shot so that when the time comes, he or she expects to succeed. As CEOs, we must also visualize ourselves and our organizations achieving great things. We must see where we want to be and then convince those around us to help us get there. When you can articulate the vision in a way that makes it as clear to them as it is to you, your goals will be easier to accomplish.
Here are four steps to achieving great things:
- Have you dreamt big enough? If you aren’t visualizing your business achieving all its goals and growing the way you want it to, it might be holding you back.
- Take time to reflect on the dream. Let it simmer as you consider the obstacles that will have to be overcome to achieve your dream.
- When you are comfortable that you have thought it through, share the dream with people you trust. They can point out challenges you may have overlooked or offer encouragement to keep you moving.
- Get started. Big dreams don’t happen without hard work. Lay out the steps that will get you from where you are today to where you want to be and start working toward your goal. You won’t get there overnight, so focus on taking small steps toward your vision each day. Sell others on your dream so they can help you get there.
Don’t be satisfied with small achievements. Visualize your potential and the potential of your organization. With hard work, you can turn it into a reality. Dare to dream big.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800)988-4726 or email@example.com.