Double take: to get more leaders ready now, don’t focus on learning

Great leaders, ready now. It’s what every business needs. And what most are unable to achieve. The evidence is clear — across the globe investments in leadership have been steadily rising (well over 10 percent annually for more than a decade), while leadership readiness is trending backward. If you’re skeptical, check out DDI’s 2015 Leadership Forecast.

Something is clearly amiss, but what? One thing is sure: It’s not a lack of tools, technology, or process.

The truth is that we (the learning and talent management disciplines) know a great deal about how to help people learn. And we’ve become quite good at developing learning content that is relevant to business challenges. We’ve got the content and tool thing down pretty well.

The problem is that the learning methods we’ve honed for decades don’t move fast enough. Organizations need more leaders, and they need them to be ready sooner, with less experience. We have to rethink.

How can we accelerate learning and growth to keep up with the speed of change? The answer isn’t to cram more learning into the already overwhelmed lives and minds of emerging leaders. There’s a different solution.

Don’t learn, grow

What if I said that learning doesn’t matter? Or that training doesn’t do anything important? Crazy? Some might say so. But when it comes to accelerating leadership readiness, both of those statements are actually true — at least partly. Here’s why…

There’s a critical difference between learning and growth. Learning happens when you acquire new knowledge or skill, and growth happens when you use it — consistently. So yes, learning is critically important, but guess what: On average, 20 minutes after a formal learning event, 40 percent of the content is forgotten. By the end of the week, 75 percent is gone. Learning happens all the time, but growth — not so much.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Growth happens when leaders integrate what they learn into how they lead. Training or coaching or any other formal learning only matters when leaders take what they have learned and use it to address the challenges they are facing in the workplace.

So if your goal is to generate more leaders ready now, it’s dangerous to settle for learning. The only satisfactory outcome is growth.

New brand of energy

Some companies have found great success in generating a new brand of energy that sparks growth in their organizations. How do they do it?

  • By changing the way they keep score. They use different metrics for senior management and for learners so that the goals don’t focus on learning. They focus on growth.
  • By taking bigger risks. They create more powerful developmental assignments that stretch leaders into just the right experiences, at just the right times.
  • By personalizing learning pathways that lead to mastery more quickly.
  • By helping leaders embrace their unique personalities and avoid the negative patterns that some characteristics cause.
  • And they do all this, not just one leader at a time but for entire cadres of leaders who learn, and grow, together — sparking tremendous energy and excitement for everyone involved. And that leads to rapid, widespread growth.


Most of us know that it’s one thing to show up at the gym to exercise, and another thing to turn that single workout into a routine that becomes part of a lifestyle. Accelerating leadership growth works like that.

You may have found in your own work in growing leaders that simply installing one system component (like a talent review or an assessment system) can be a great deal of effort all by itself. So how is it that some organizations are managing to not only install solid system components, but sustain them, and make the growth of leadership a permanent aspect of how they operate?

The secret, once again, is energy. Remember, rapid learning generates energy — excitement and some fear — and you can manufacture it in your organization.

Keeping the fire of growth and development burning bright requires a combination of tactics and mindset. You might need to adjust your metrics of accelerated growth, but you also might need to confront your organization’s beliefs about what it means to be “ready.”

The truth is, no one can ever be totally ready for the complex world we live in. So the only viable way to respond is to always be preparing.

Matthew J. Paese, Ph.D., is vice president of Succession and C-Suite Services for Development Dimensions International (DDI). Matt’s work has centered on the application of succession, assessment, and development approaches as they apply to boards, CEOs, senior management teams, and leaders across the pipeline. He consults, coaches, speaks, and conducts research around all those topics and more. His co-authored book Leaders Ready Now was released in June and is available at

Steps for positioning your company for growth or succession

What are your plans for your company and yourself? Do you know where and how you want to grow your organization? If you want to turn your company into a $25 million business in the next three to five years, you have to plan that out — you can’t just snap your fingers and get there, says Ross Vozar, CPA, managing director of Transaction Advisory Services at BDO USA, LLP. Or, if you’re 55 years old and you want to retire in five or 10 years, do you know what will happen to your company or how you’ll afford to stop working?

“Planning is the most important piece. If you don’t have a plan, your concept won’t get anywhere,” Vozar says.

Smart Business spoke with Vozar about how business owners can position their company for future growth or succession.

What kind of planning needs to take place?

First, you need to have a development plan. What is it that you want to do? What are your goals for the next three, five or 10 years? What is it going to take to get there? What type of commitment will it take? What kind of mindset do you need for how you spend your time?

Then, you have to look at your people. Do they have the right skill sets or background to get you where you want to go? These can be hard questions, especially for family-owned businesses. You have to honestly determine if your current management team is capable of taking your concept to the next level, or perhaps the business needs fresh ideas from a new employee.

A lot of first-generation businesses need to be asking these tough questions now, especially if you plan on taking on a private equity partner to get you to your goals. If you’re an entrepreneur who founded the company but you don’t want to spend the time or don’t have the skills to position it for growth, you need to develop a succession plan or find ways to bring in the right expertise.

Once you have the right development plan and people in place, you likely will need some financing to reach your goals, and a financing plan. Traditional bank financing is often the least expensive option, but depending on the size of your business, lending standards have become more restrictive and many banks are wary of working with small businesses. Fortunately, there are a lot of creative financing options that are now available, from crowdfunding to private equity ownership.

You need to find a partner to have a long-term relationship with. When you’re evaluating potential deals, the intangibles are important. It may not come down to the highest offer, as a personality conflict can easily derail your plan. Do you want a hands-off partner, or do you need guidance and expertise to achieve your goals? Do you plan to retire in five years; do you need the private equity company to help you grow the company so you can do that?

You’ll also need advisers to help you build an aggressive, but achievable financial forecast. Private equity investors typically want to see that your company has already shown success.

This seems pretty straightforward. Where do business owners run into problems?

Most business owners are just too busy. They spend 100 hours a week on their business, servicing customers, so this kind of planning becomes an afterthought. Before they know it, they’ve taken a business from zero to X number of sales, and then they start asking, ‘OK, what’s next?’

The options are limitless, but it takes a commitment of time and money. It’s critical to have advisers at your side. When you’re going into growth mode, you’ll be dealing with a level of sophistication that may go beyond your expertise. Advisers cost you money upfront, but they will pay off in the end.

You can’t rush this process. It’s all about upfront planning. A lot of business owners are embracing having their accountant come in and help clean up the financial statements. Accountants can find the skeletons in the closet that will matter to a buyer, and then coach you through the story behind that. For example, you lost a $1 million client, but that account was very low-margin and now allows you to have the capacity for more profitable business. Not having control of the process from all aspects is a transaction risk that you don’t want to take. It can be a deal killer that doesn’t allow you to reach your goals.

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by BDO USA, LLP

Tips women should know before starting and growing a business in 2016

Women have a unique stake in economic markets, policy and outcomes. We contribute to the U. S. economy; we have driven the creation of new businesses and jobs, moved into leadership roles providing financially for our children and families our employees and the community and hold the majority vote.

With the progression from the home to the workplace and into business ownership we now own 36% of all businesses and control between $5 trillion and $15 trillion in purchasing power, and we are expressing our unique views and needs from this position of power.

Unfortunately, women in business have not realized their full potential as our revenues are not commensurate with our numbers — women-owned firms produce only 4.23 percent of all firm revenues an annual opportunity shortfall of more than $10 trillion.

So what can you do to start and grow a successful in business in 2016?

  • Build a Solid Foundation. If you are starting a business, build your foundation before you quit your day job; make sure you have a sound business and marketing plan and that you have the capital you need to start.
    The most important thing I did was visit my accountant before I launched my business; when reviewing the numbers for my new business, I learned that I would have to work a lot harder to achieve the same pay that I was receiving in Corporate America. I would have to play several roles to start including building sales and I would not be receiving benefits. I tabled my idea and at the next business idea, prepared myself and started with a solid plan.
  • Protect Your Assets. When starting your business, understand both the startup costs and the cost to operate your firm. Make sure you have a plan on how you will fund your business. How much money do you need and from where will it come? Build relationships with your banker to access traditional loans; do not use high interest credit cards or rob your retirement savings which may put your financial security in jeopardy.
  • Position Yourself as the Expert. Whether you are offering a product or service, make sure you position yourself as the expert. If you have 15 years of industry experience, highlight your years of experience and expertise rather than telling everyone you just started your business.
    Additionally, I hear consistently from buyers — they want to hear from the person with the most experience, passion and focus, typically that is the owner. If you have sales people on the front line, instead of yourself — make sure they communicate knowledgeably about the firm and the industry and deliver a strong message professionally.
    Avoid the, “I do everything” trap. Many new business owners take on too much and present themselves as an unfocused “jack of all trades.” Build your business in one, solid area of focus.
  • Make the Most of the Opportunities Nearby. Identify buyers and potential buyers within a five mile radius of your business. Look at consumers, small businesses, schools, local, county and state governments, large corporations and any federal agencies, including military bases.
    Make a target list and reach out to these buyers to begin building relationships. You can also volunteering or serving on not-for-profit boards for causes with which you are aligned, gives you the ability to meet other professionals that may be in need of your product or service.
  • Above All, Follow Up! The biggest downfall to potential business is the lack of follow-up. Send a follow-up email, keep in touch with relevant information and deliver on promises. One buyer I know says he sees the 80/20 rule reign here: 20 percent of the businesses he meets, respond 80 percent of the time.

    What happens to the 80 percent? They make contact, don’t follow up and lose his business; there are a lot of good firms with which he would have welcomed the opportunity to do business.

Margot Dorfman is the CEO and co-counder of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, a 501c6 not-for-profit trade association based in Washington ,D.C. Dorfman is a visionary leader who has dedicated herself to promoting the economic and leadership interest of women.  Her extensive background in business, business ownership, publishing and nonprofit leadership has prepared her to set the vision for the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce ( 

Armor Correctional Health Service’s non-conventional approach to correctional health care pays off

Armor Correctional Heath Services, a Miami-based recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and has grown to be Florida’s leader in correctional health care with 27 contracts and 17 of those in Florida — and such growth has made it all the more important to recruit the best employees possible.

Armor is a 100 percent minority-owned and physician-owned company. Armor provides high quality comprehensive medical, mental health, dental and pharmaceutical services for jails and prisons nationwide.

Controlled growth

While other companies grapple with the pressure of financial returns, Armor’s mission is deeply rooted in controlled growth and client satisfaction. It pursues growth at a very conservative, measured, and selective pace, and seeks clients who are interested in genuine partnerships.

Quality care and service to our clients continue to be Armor’s driving focus and this non-traditional philosophy impacts every aspect of our operation, perhaps, none more so than our approach to new business.

Armor is proud of its exceptional recruitment and retention history. With more than 2 ½  million men and women in custody in U.S. jails and prisons, there is a great employment need to care for the correctional population.

Our experience has found that it is advantageous to work with those experienced in the corrections field. These professionals have the ability to follow security protocols, allowing the focus to be on what medicine is all about — the care of individuals.

Image portrayal

What may be the most challenging obstacle for recruitment is the portrayal of privatized correctional health care in the media. Coverage is often one-sided and manipulated by those with their own agenda such as plaintiff attorneys, disgruntled former employees or organized labor unions.

Rarely discussed are the hundreds of thousands of successful patient interactions. Rather, the isolated incident that a plaintiff’s attorney has intentionally made public, and because of federal HIPAA regulations the company cannot comment on specifically, is the story that makes the headlines.

Bruce Teal is CEO of Armor Correctional Health Services, which provides medical care at jails in Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin. Visit for information.

Are you settling for ‘good’ when you could be better — or the best?

Ask yourself this simple question: Is my business growing right now?

If you answered no, it doesn’t mean your business is in trouble, but it might mean you are settling for being good when you could be better, or even the best, at what you do.

No growth can be a sign that you are holding on to a product that needs to be rethought or a service that may not be as relevant as it once was, or perhaps needs to be applied to a different market. If that’s the case, it’s time to step back and see if you can turn something good into something better.

Take Cardinal Health as an example. The company started as Cardinal Foods, distributing foods throughout Central Ohio. While successful, food distribution wasn’t a high-growth business, so the small company added pharmaceutical distribution.

Cardinal’s true expertise was in distribution, not food. Pharmaceutical distribution was a more lucrative business with higher growth potential, so the company applied its expertise to that market and thrived, eventually selling off the food business altogether. Today, Cardinal is a $91 billion company.

Too often, business leaders are afraid to change. It’s easy to fall in love with your own products and keep hoping that things will get better next quarter, but you have to listen to the market and understand where your true expertise lies. Search for the spot where you can take what you know and apply it to a new market or in a new way. It will take patience, solid counsel and risk, but it’s the only way to forward.

Don’t focus on what you make; focus on what you know. Then take that knowledge to a new market by solving customer problems. What do you know how to do that can help people solve problems?

In today’s economy, nothing remains the same. The competition is too quick and too nimble for you to settle for the status quo. Today’s hot product or service can quickly become supplanted by the next big thing, so you have to always be looking for the next opportunity to stay ahead of the pack and avoid obsolescence.

Take a step back and think about your expertise. You might be surprised how you can quickly transform something that’s good into something that’s even better, opening up a world of growth potential.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc., the publisher of Smart Business Magazine and operates SBN Interactive, a content marketing firm.

A board of directors needs to develop strength, so don’t stunt its growth

“It’s not personal: it’s business.” With all due respect to Michael Corleone in the film, the godfather’s philosophy just doesn’t work when it comes to board development. People get involved in boards because they have a personal interest in the mission and vision of the organization. As a CEO with 30-plus years’ experience, I know that combining a strong strategic plan with a strong board means strong results.

What does a strong board look like? They’re the big-picture folks who stay at 30,000 feet in order to give you the best feedback. When you say, “Check me on this …” they share the professional Cliffs Notes of their own personal experience. Every person you recruit to your board is a potential chair. And they do what they can to move the organization forward without witch hunts, stalling or sweating the day-to-day operations you and your staff already have down to a science.

Sweat equity necessary

A strong board/CEO relationship sounds great, but it takes some sweat equity on everyone’s part to get there. Consider these building blocks:

  • Expectations: Clearly defined responsibilities and roles are a given. Write them down and have everyone sign off on them. Include a section about board self-assessment — peer governance is an excellent tool.
  • Transparency: All good relationships require trust. You and your board need to be able to lean into each other in order to settle issues and meet goals, and trust is the only way to get there.
  • Exchange of ideas: This is a collaboration. Hear each other out. Don’t try to win at brainstorming. You’ve assembled a team of mentors and advisers — take it out for a test drive and see what the horses can do.
  • Continuing education: No new information shows up without getting outside of your own (collective) mind. Open the windows in your conference room and let some fresh thinking in.

The next step comes down to confidence. As CEO, you need to be confident enough in yourself and your staff to let your board be strong. We’re done with the puppet show … you know the one where we tell the board what they want to hear and they nod, smile and follow Robert’s Rules of Order. You’ve worked hard to recruit and cultivate excellence; let them do what you brought them in to do.

Conversely, the board needs to place confidence in its CEO. They’ve brought on a professional who’s ready, willing and able to do the heavy lifting the position requires. They need to give you enough room to do your job.

Lastly, all good strategic plans involve vision, and pursing vision involves risk. The key is, you and your board are working hand-in-glove, which makes it a calculated risk. You’ve done your homework: The vision and strategic plan are there to guide you and all stakeholders involved are at the top of their professional game because they have a personal interest in the organization’s mission. That’s right … it’s personal. And that’s why you’re going to succeed.

Alaina Macia didn’t lose sight of the core product at MTM Inc. when looking for new opportunities

After realizing the difficulty health plans and government organizations had in arranging transportation services, Peg and Lynn Griswold were determined to develop a company that ensured people had access to health care.

Founded in 1995, their company, Medical Transportation Management Inc., quickly set industry standards. But after a career with Blue Cross Blue Shield and eight years running and growing MTM, the Griswolds were ready to retire.

In 2003 they chose to transition out of the business by bringing in Lynn’s daughter Alaina Macia to help run the company.

“I joined the company when it was around $30 million to $40 million,” Macia says. “At that time, I focused in on every aspect of MTM from marketing to sales strategy to operations, financial review and technology.”

Over the course of two years, Macia got more responsibility and freedom to make decisions and in 2005 was promoted to president and CEO of the company.

“In the beginning, I was really focused on the marketing and sales process,” she says. “We had a good product, but I wanted to make sure people knew about MTM.”

MTM doesn’t own vehicles; rather, the company coordinates transportation that’s already available and manages it from a quality perspective. Over the years, Macia and her leadership team recognized opportunities to expand MTM’s service offerings. Leveraging its resources and experience, MTM adapted its management model, offering new products to help clients align incentives, reduce cost and increase customer satisfaction.

The demand for better transportation products and services was certainly prevalent, and with Macia at the helm MTM has grown to 1,000 employees in 28 states with annual revenue of $175 million.

Here’s how Macia is steering MTM with a focus on growth.

Become a better company

In the beginning of Macia’s tenure as CEO, she had to focus on making MTM better known by the company’s potential clients.

“I wanted to make sure people knew about MTM, knew that we were a potential vendor for their services nationwide and that we understood who our core clients are and where our growth is going to come from,” Macia says. “You have to make sure that you’re marketing to your target audience and that it’s a message they want to hear and that the person carrying that message is someone the client is going to listen to.”

After ensuring the company’s message was targeting the right clients, Macia turned her focus to MTM’s operations and technology.

“As you bring on more clients, you need to become more efficient and continue to lower your overhead and operating costs so that you can grow profitably and in a high-quality manner,” she says. “If you don’t, you’re going to have issues going from a small to midsized company.”

Once MTM got to a critical mass point, Macia had to turn her attention toward ensuring the right people were on the team.

“The people you start with may not be the same people you need at a higher level,” she says. “You really are only as good as your team and the people around you. You have to focus on bringing in talent and not just hiring to fill a seat, but finding that best person for that job and that culture.”

Manage new growth

Despite all the areas of the business Macia has been focused on over the years, her biggest challenge has remained managing the growth of MTM.

“We are a high-growth company, but we never want to grow and sacrifice the quality to our existing customers,” Macia says. “So we make sure we isolate those clients so it’s business-as-usual for them while we’re growing, implementing and staffing for new programs.

“Like a duck, we want to appear very smooth to all our clients even if we’re working very feverishly under the water.”

MTM has continued to grow in its core markets, but has been leveraging its capabilities to become more diverse.

“One of the things we’re focused on for growth is home and community-based services, and that’s all the services an individual needs to stay in the home as opposed to going into a nursing home or a long-term care institution,” she says. “Transportation is a big component if somebody’s going to stay in their home and still get to medical care, church, to see friends and have a social life.”

MTM is putting networks together to deliver home and community-based services, which are a big push under health care reform. However, those services aren’t the only ones Macia has her eyes on for expansion.

“We are also focused on moving into public transportation and school-based transportation and working with our managed care clients to provide additional services like ambulance management, claims management and customer service operations for them,” Macia says.

Growth in your core service offerings is one thing, but growing new offerings takes a lot more focus and attention.

“It’s really about prioritizing what you believe you can be successful in and what is going to generate return on investment so you can continue to invest in your services,” she says. “You need to realize what you can do effectively and make money as well. If you can’t make a profit then you’re going to diminish what you could have invested in your core product.”

When growing both your core service and a new offering you have to make sure you’re not taking your eye off of either ball.

“You have to have enough energy around the new products that you’re actually going to be successful in making it happen, but not take away so much attention from your core product that you’re diminishing the value to your clients,” Macia says.

“It’s about being honest with yourself, your company and your staff about what you can achieve. At the same time, human nature is to avoid change, so a lot of times as a business leader you have to make sure people aren’t pushing back. So you have to assess what your capabilities are and what your team can do.”

Tap strong talent

As MTM has grown and expanded its services and product offerings, the company has had to ensure that its team is equipped to handle the new work.

“We are continually recruiting talent and making sure we have the right fit both from individuals who are running our programs in our local markets that are client-facing, and internally with the specific talent we need across different areas of the business,” Macia says.

During the hiring process, you have to be diligent and ensure that the person you bring onboard fits into your company culture.

“Obviously when you’re looking to bring someone in, they need to have the background and experience for that position, but it’s not just background and experience,” she says. “They need to fit within your culture and should interview with multiple individuals within the organization. After we’ve identified top candidates, we usually use a third-party vendor to assess their critical thinking skills and whether they’re a fit for the role.”

MTM’s process helps slow people down who might be looking to simply fill a position because they have a gap versus truly finding the best person for the job.

“We want people to be successful at MTM for them and for MTM,” Macia says. “We don’t want to hire people who are not a good fit, because it’s time and money for MTM, and its demoralizing to be put in a role that you can’t be successful at.”

Once someone is hired at MTM the company does extensive employee training and engagement.

“Companies that have high employee engagement outperform their competitors, and it’s not just because of that, but because it makes for a great work environment where people want to get up and come to work every day,” she says. “I like to come to work every day, and I like what I do and I hope my whole company feels the same way.”

Employee engagement can’t just be lip service. For employees to truly engage with your company, you have to prove to them that you are serious about having engagement be a part of the business.

“It has to be a priority,” she says. “A lot of times, business leaders are looking at how to save money, and I think it’s a penny-wise and pound-foolish thing not to invest in training and employee engagement because it pays dividends back.

“As a leader you need to focus on giving employees the tools to be successful — training and moving barriers. It’s multi-faceted and there’s no secret ingredient, but it’s open communication with your staff, clear goals for the organization, tools and training, and then recognition for a job well done.”

With many aspects of MTM running smoothly and sights set on further growth, Macia is excited for the opportunities in front of the company, but is waiting for that right time to pounce.

“We are interested in looking at the potential of international growth, but right now we are growing at such a rate that we don’t need to look for additional ways to grow,” she says. “We are growing at about 35 percent a year or more. When that slows down, we’ll look at acquisitions and other ways to grow, but right now we’re focused on organic growth.”


  • Understand what areas of your business need improving.
  • Manage your core product or service growth while finding new opportunities.
  • Build and engage the right team to develop your company’s growth.

The Macia File

Name: Alaina Macia
Title: President and CEO
Company: MTM Inc.

Born: Washington D.C.

Education: Attended Washington University and received a bachelor’s degree in biological engineering and a master’s degree in business administration with a focus in finance and accounting.

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it? I worked as a lifeguard and also worked at a restaurant, but the one job that I had that gave me the best experience was working at my mom’s CPA practice. I worked with clients, helped meet deadlines and helped process information for staff. Being 16 and working with the public was a great experience.

Who is someone you look up to in the business world? Sir Richard Branson. I’ve always admired his entrepreneurial spirit and the fact that he believes in large goals. He inspires people to think outside the box.

What is the best business advice you’ve received? The 80/20 rule. Understanding what’s driving 80 percent of what’s going on and ignoring the other 20 percent so you can make vast improvement quickly.

What are you excited about at MTM? I get excited watching my employees engage, grow and have new opportunities.

If you could speak with anyone from the past or present, with whom would you want to speak with? The people I want to talk to are the people who are great at what I’m not great at. Both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton can speak well and engage their audience. That’s a great skill because people who master that can be successful.

How to reach: MTM Inc., (636) 561-5686 or

How Timothy Yager led a strategy to get Revol Wireless winning again in the prepaid provider space

Timothy Yager, President and CEO, Revol Wireless

Timothy Yager, President and CEO, Revol Wireless

When Timothy Yager started at Revol Wireless in the fall of 2011, the company had been losing customers every month for an extended period of time. Late 2009 through the first half of 2011 were tough years for the organization — rumors of bankruptcy and new ownership were being floated around and the wireless communications provider was in desperate need of change.

“The company was having some financial issues,” says Yager, president and CEO. “So my arrival was a chance to hit the reset button for Revol, not only for our customers, but for our employees and say, ‘It’s a new day. The ownership change has happened and they’ve brought in new management and we’re going to focus the company on winning.’”

When Revol was first launched, it was a more than 300-employee, $100 million company. It had a reputation as being on the cutting edge of the prepaid wireless industry.

“Revol had a lot of success early on because it offered unlimited voice and those kinds of things on a prepaid platform,” Yager says. “They were the only provider in the footprint offering that type of service.”

In 2008 and 2009, other prepaid providers started moving in and the competitive forces grew. In a hypercompetitive industry such as wireless, Revol wasn’t as competitive as it should have been and it quickly began to fall behind.

“They needed some help getting the business turned around,” Yager says.

Here’s how Yager reinvigorated Revol Wireless with a strategy to get the prepaid provider winning again.

Evaluate the business

Prior to Yager’s arrival, Revol’s strategy and day-to-day operations were hindered by its capital structure, which brought about a slow-to-react atmosphere. Once the company was free from that structure, there were a lot of people who were looking for strong guidance, enthusiastic leadership and setting of general objectives to get the company back on track.

When Yager was first introduced to the team, it was a transformation in enthusiasm, direction and general motivation. Everybody suddenly had a place to go and a job to do. Yager brought a lot of that enthusiasm and direction to the table, and that’s exactly what people needed.

“Those first few days and weeks were really about analyzing the team that was here and where the strengths and weaknesses were,” Yager says. “The other thing was trying to change the focus and mindset of the company.”

Yager wanted to instill a strategy that said the company was in it to win it. It didn’t happen overnight, but employees started to recognize that there was a new philosophy.

“Revol had gotten mired in the minutia and a lot of times in companies that are struggling, people retreat from making decisions,” he says. “One of the biggest things I did was come in and start making decisions.”

Simple things like “yes and no” decisions went a long way toward starting to improve morale and helped employees realize there was a new sheriff in town. Yager represented new ownership, new direction and new thought.

“I think people started to feel empowered to be successful,” he says. “In a turnaround situation, one of the biggest things you’ve got to do is make decisions. So often companies get polarized with the fear of making the wrong decision that they make no decision, and I firmly believe that sometimes a wrong decision is better than no decision.

“If people are just constantly treading water and they don’t know whether they’re going up, down, right or left, it zaps the life out of a company.”

People respect leaders who come into a company and lay out a plan of attack, are upfront about the plan and who are forceful.

“I can remember that first meeting and saying, ‘I’m not going to do everything right and I’m not going to pretend to do everything right, but we’re going to make decisions, have short meetings, focus on what needs to get done and we’re going to get it done,’” Yager says. “In our wireless industry, where it is so competitive, we don’t have the luxury of taking six months to analyze everything.

“Sometimes you’ve got to look at the facts, make a decision and move on.”

Be decisive

Revol started 2012 losing customers every month, just as it had been the year prior, but with Yager on board the wheels were in motion for the company to move forward.

“When I came in, one of the first things I did was put some extra incentives out there to our dealers to sell some phones,” Yager says. “I was trying to buy some enthusiasm from our partners to get reinvigorated about selling the Revol brand.”

Another key decision Yager made was to get out in the field and visit a lot of the company’s owned doors and indirect doors to help get the message across that it’s a new Revol and a new day.

“Those were things that didn’t cost a lot of money, but helped move the business forward because it put a face with a name they were starting to see on emails,” he says. “It also gave them a chance to meet me and realize that I’m a relatively aggressive guy.

“When you’ve got five to eight competitors in a marketplace, you’ve got to be aggressive, and by people meeting me and realizing that I wasn’t just saying we were playing to win, they could tell by meeting with me that we want to win the game.”

One of the most crucial issues that Revol and Yager identified that needed to be changed was their network.

“Revol was still operating on an older technology called 1X and had slower data speeds,” he says. “In today’s world of smartphones, Androids and everything else, data is key.”

Shortly after Yager joined the company, the board approved a plan to upgrade the network to a 3G network.

“Our key initiative in 2012 was the company deploying 3G,” he says. “We launched that service in September last year and noticed an immediate uptick in our sales to customers as well as a stickiness of our existing customers.”

Move forward

Yager’s key to helping Revol right the ship was his ability to deliver on his decisions. He was careful not to promise too much.

“I came in and made a few simple promises — two or three key things and then I spent a year beating the drum on those things to do it,” Yager says. “Too often people come in and make a laundry list of 26 items they’re going to promise. No one can get that done in a reasonable timeframe and you lose credibility. Pick and choose what needs to get done and then deliver on it.”

In 2012 Revol was all about getting 3G launched. In 2013 the company is all about selling phones and keeping customers happy.

“When we launched our 3G network we saw an immediate turnaround to our gross sales and our net sales,” he says. “We have more than doubled our sales in January 2013 from January 2012. We’ve really seen that the successes are bearing out.”

Everyone at Revol had to put in the hard work to get the pieces in place, but now that that’s done, the company has seen noticeable improvement. To continue to see those sales and revenue numbers increase, the company has to keep a focus on growing its customers.

“I’m happy to report they are growing,” Yager says. “I’m excited about what we can achieve this year. Last year we had a hard time competing from a sales perspective because we hadn’t upgraded the network. This year we’ve got those key ground-level type things in place, so I’m looking forward to being able to execute and win.

“We have almost a singular focus in 2013, which is to grow the business. There’s really only one way to grow the business, and that’s to be successful in adding new subscribers and keeping existing subscribers.”

How to reach: Revol Wireless, (800) 738-6547 or

2013 ERC / Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey: In pursuit of a better workplace

Pat Perry, President, ERC

Pat Perry, President, ERC

Workplace practices and policies ranging from innovative flexible work arrangements to the debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were topics of this year’s ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey. Watching the discussions around these events unfold serves to reinforce the fact that the decisions we make as employers have the ability to significantly impact the well-being of both our individual employees and our organizations.

Now in its 14th year, the 2013 survey collaboration between ERC and Smart Business aims to shed light onto how employers in the region are effectively applying these practices, enhancing their workplaces and ensuring that they retain their top performers and attract new talent in the region.

So, whether you are pursuing the latest innovative trend or simply looking to meet the basic needs of your workforce, you are likely doing so for largely the same reason as the vast majority of other organizations in the area — to overcome the challenge of attracting and retaining the best and brightest employees here in Northeast Ohio.

Below are a few hot topics from this year’s survey. Also included are a few suggestions about how each can be used to help attract and retain top talent at your organization.


Organizations are increasingly expressing concerns about health care costs with 42.6 percent of manufacturers and 28 percent of non-manufacturers reporting that they are “unsure” whether they will “‘pay” or “play” when the new ACA regulations take effect.

Two-thirds of organizations are choosing to “play” and will continue to offer health insurance to their employees. With many unknowns still on the horizon, try to understand the drivers of these costs for your business and explore new ways to manage them in the long-term. Investing in wellness initiatives helps manage costs and still allows you to provide the benefits that are most important to your workforce.


Creating a physically safe work environment starts with putting specific policies on the books that will keep employees safe on a day-to-day basis. We’ve been fortunate to see very low rates of violence in the workplace in recent years among participating organizations, 77.5 percent of which prohibit firearms and other weapons. But safety isn’t always as cut-and-dry as having a policy in your handbook.

While violence has declined, incidents of bullying have actually risen to a high point of 19 percent in 2013. Creating an environment that encourages employees to speak out if they experience or see inappropriate behaviors can be challenging, but results in a healthier, safer workplace.


Respondents are making this popular concept into more than just a catchphrase. This year, flexible work arrangements rose to 68.9 percent — the highest level seen in the past 13 years. While we understand not every job is conducive to off-site work arrangements like telecommuting or work-from-home, even manufacturing organizations have some options. In fact, manufacturers in this year’s survey allow their employees some degree of flexibility with 34 percent allowing part-time schedules and 36.2 percent granting flextime.

Social Media

While social media use is seeing growth on the whole, the most prominent role it plays in organizations is in recruitment strategies. Half of respondents report using some type of social media tool for recruiting. But this year organizations made it abundantly clear that not all social media tools are created equally.

When it comes to finding the right employees, organizations appear to be taking their recruiting responsibilities more seriously, with 90.9 percent sticking to professional networking sites like LinkedIn. Facebook ranked second with only half that number of users at 45.5 percent.

Sincerest thanks to this year’s survey participants and to Smart Business magazine for 14 years of survey collaboration. In addition, we would like to acknowledge the NorthCoast 99 winners over the past 15 years ( who also demonstrate excellence in the attraction and retention of top talent.


Pat Perry is president of ERC, Northeast Ohio’s largest organization dedicated to human resources and workplace programs, practices, training and consulting. Reach him at (440) 684-9700 or [email protected] For more information, visit

Former franchisee turned franchisor, Wan Kim reinvigorates Smoothie King as CEO

Wan Kim, Global CEO, Smoothie King Franchises Inc.

Wan Kim, Global CEO, Smoothie King Franchises Inc.

Imagine it’s a hot day. You’re thirsty and hungry, but don’t want anything unhealthy. There aren’t many options available to meet all those needs. In the early ’70s, the concept of the smoothie was born out of this unmet need. Opened in 1973, Smoothie King Franchises Inc. was the original smoothie brand.

In 2001, Wan Kim had this same urge to find a healthy option to quench his thirst and satisfy his hunger. He had his first experience with a Smoothie King smoothie while studying at University of California at Irvine. The high quality, healthy product had him hooked immediately.

Kim was so impacted by the product that he became a Smoothie King franchisee in South Korea. Since 2003 he has owned several Smoothie King franchises, and in 2012 when the opportunity came about to own the brand, he jumped at the chance.

“I bought the company in July 2012,” says Kim, Global CEO. “I really love this brand. It’s not because I’m the owner, but because we have great products. There are a lot of changes still happening, but it’s exciting.”

Smoothie King, a 300-employee, more than $230 million organization, is now 40 years old. The brand has more than 700 stores and a presence in the United States, Korea and Singapore. Despite the company’s established age and fairly big size, a new owner and plenty of potential market opportunity leave the brand in growth mode today.

“Our next five-year growth plan is to open 1,000 stores in the U.S. and 500 outside the U.S.,” Kim says. “Last year the company did about 26 franchise openings. This year in the first quarter the company has done 40 to 45 signings.”

Kim’s experience as a franchisee and now a franchisor has given the company new life and Kim is excited about where he can bring the brand and its smoothies in the near future.

Here’s how Kim is spreading the word about Smoothie King in the U.S. and overseas.

Understand all areas of your business

Kim was a franchisee for nearly a decade in South Korea. His stores were some of the highest grossing for Smoothie King before he became CEO.

“Obviously franchisees and franchisors have some different views, but eventually the bottom line is to make a better brand,” Kim says. “The path they take can be different, so you have to keep communicating to each other and look at the bigger picture.”

Kim has a very unique advantage over numerous other franchise CEOs. He now has experience as a franchisee and a franchisor.

“I have both aspects and know what a franchise wants and needs, and I know how I need to communicate,” he says. “In any kind of business, sometimes people forget why we do it. So that’s why I keep communicating and keep telling our people why we do this business. We have a great mission and a great vision. We just have to talk about it.

“A lot of people want to make money and be comfortable and I get that and that’s very, very important, but there has to be another reason why we do this. Smoothie King is a healthy choice and our mission is to help people live a better lifestyle.”

While the company’s mission is to help people live a healthier lifestyle, Kim wanted to make sure that the company’s franchises were in good health also.

“As soon as I bought the company I looked at how many single franchisees we have, because when I was a franchisee I thought becoming a multi-unit franchisee was actually very challenging,” he says. “As a franchisor, they don’t understand what kind of challenges franchisees have when they have a second or third location.

“I started to visit some multi-unit franchisees that we have to look at what kind of system they have in place. Today, we are assembling all those systems so that whenever we have a single franchisee try to become a multi-unit franchisee we have some system to help them grow.”

Having those systems in place will become very beneficial as Kim continues to look at ways he can expand the brand.

“Right now we are in growth mode and are opening a lot of stores and also expanding into other countries,” Kim says. “When you grow, you are hiring a lot of people and when you’re expanding outside the United States you encounter different cultures. In order for me to assemble all those differences I need a really strong mission for why we do this business so that it doesn’t matter what kind of culture or background you’re from.”

Prepare for growth mode

Today, Kim is focused on growing the Smoothie King brand outside the U.S. and in the Southern parts of the U.S. where the company has a strong presence, but a lot of potential still remains.

“We want to make sure that we secure our market before we expand to a different part of the U.S.,” Kim says. “That expansion is happening in Florida, Texas, Georgia and other southern parts of the U.S. Going outside the United States we are looking at Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan and the Middle East. Our goal is to open two markets this year and two more markets next year.”

Fast-paced growth like Smoothie King is expecting requires a strong culture and mission that make the company attractive anywhere it goes.

“When you are in growth mode I would advise that you want to have a really strong culture in your organization, so that whomever you hire can be blended into your culture,” he says. “You have to set up a strong mission, vision and keep communicating with your employees.”

When you take your company outside of the United States you will experience a lot of cultural difference, and you have to be prepared for it.

“A lot of times when people don’t have any experience with different cultures they will think it’s wrong, but in fact it’s different,” Kim says. “In order for you to go to other countries and do business you have to learn how to respect their culture. If you don’t respect their culture they will know immediately. You have to educate your employees.”

The vast cultural differences Smoothie King employees will experience as the brand continues to expand isn’t the only change they’ll have to accept, they’ll also have to buy into the sheer amount of growth that Kim sees in the company’s future.

“A lot of times when companies grow employees don’t really see how far we can go,” he says. “When we start to grow there is a lot of work coming in and a lot of things are changing. It is very important that I need to keep communicating with employees that we can get there, because if you don’t believe we can get there, then it’s not going to happen.”

One of the first things Kim did when he bought the company was to tell the employees about the growth plan and a lot of people didn’t buy in.

“They were thinking, ‘Oh, it’s a new owner; of course he’s going to be thinking of growth, but it’s not possible,’” he says. “So I had to keep communicating that it’s going to happen and one by one, I started to show them that this would happen and then it really happened and people believed in the plan. I know there are still people who don’t believe where we can go, so I still have to communicate.”

Kim bought the company a little more than a year ago and he is having a blast seeing the company succeed little by little.

“I tell my employees to imagine if we were the size of any big fast food company, the world could be a different place,” he says. “It’s not just about making money and having success. It’s also about influencing more and more people to live a healthier lifestyle.”

How to reach: Smoothie King Franchises Inc., (985) 635-6973 or