The whys and hows of buying a business

When growing through acquisition, it’s imperative that the acquisition is the right company at the right price with the right integration strategy. That way you can make sure the company strengthens your existing business and accelerates your business goals. Business leaders and dealmaking experts shared what’s worked for them at ASPIRE 2018.

The discussion, moderated by Christopher Thel, director of Cohen & Grigsby, featured:

Jack Glover, Partner, Incline Equity Partners

Kevin Godin, CEO, AFC Industries

Peter J. Lieberman, Partner and chief compliance officer, Schneider Downs Corporate Finance, LP

 

Buy vs. build

The buy versus build decision just comes down to timeline. It’s much quicker to buy something than it is to build something. We’re always weighing that with the cost rate. So, the cost of an acquisition and time can be prohibitive versus the cost of a greenfield acquisition.

— Jack Glover

If you go into a situation where you’re going greenfield, while that may be cheaper, one of the things that you have to deal with is the only thing you can bring to bear on that is resources and capabilities you already have.

— Kevin Godin

 

Advisers on your side

A potential buyer who doesn’t have a track record — can’t demonstrate that they have financing in place, can’t demonstrate that they know what they’re doing when it comes to negotiating and executing an M&A transaction — is going to lose out in the competitive process to someone who can show up with a high probability of getting the transaction done.

— Peter J. Lieberman

 

Ask the right questions

You only find out the real reason a guy sold his business the day after you close. You hear all this stuff about, ‘I don’t want to spend time, or I want to do this or that.’ But there’s a reason why, right? I’m a big believer that they’re doing it either out of fear or greed. They’re either nervous about something, that something bad is going to happen and that they’re going to lose some value, or they think, ‘Geez, this is the absolute top of the market.’

— Jack Glover

One of the things that you have to make sure is that you understand the business you’re acquiring — at least the type of business they’re in — so that you can ask the right questions. So in our case, we’ve acquired businesses that were complementary to the base business we already had.

— Kevin Godin

 

What could go wrong?

The bad things almost always start from the beginning, and they almost always seem like they’re based on just a fundamental mystery of what the business is that the buyer’s buying at the time they bought it and trying to turn it into something that it’s not.

— Peter J. Lieberman

There’s no question that the biggest challenge in my experience is always fear. We actually have a presentation that we go through with the sellers on what to expect after. We do this even as we’re negotiating the deal. So, here’s how we hold people accountable, here’s how we do meetings, just the cultural issues in general, because the (lack of) trust and credibility is what will make an integration unsuccessful.

— Kevin Godin

The numbers are important, but the people end up being much more important. And that’s always the case for us — the difference between a deal that doesn’t go well and a deal that goes really well.

— Jack Glover

 

Pricing right

If you’ve got a business that’s an add-on that’s a third of the size of a platform, you’re probably not going to see the same multiple, but you’re going to be able to contract that difference over time by finding a strategic buyer.

— Peter J. Lieberman

We bought two companies between 11 and 12 times EBITDA. Those were what we think are very high-quality assets that have the ability to grow, but it’s a tough market and it’s very, very competitive. I will tell you that I don’t see that changing significantly. As interest rates tick up, that should probably moderate prices a bit. When I say moderate, not to bring them down, but just so that they don’t continue rising.

— Jack Glover

 

Integrate early and often

We start integration planning as soon as we have an LOI (letter of intent) signed. We assume that we’re going to execute the deal. We don’t get to that point without being serious about closing.

— Kevin Godin

You really have to always be integrating because we want the car to be running down the road at 100 miles an hour. But if we haven’t put the lug nuts on, we’re not going to go very far, very fast. There’s no silver bullet. It’s one of those things — you have to keep pushing. You’ve got to push hard at the integration, and then you’ve got to push hard on the growth at the same time.

— Jack Glover

Before you do anything, you’ve got to know what you want it to look like after it’s over. It’s tremendous to find an opportunistic acquisition candidate that you can jump into, but the best opportunities and the best deals and the best outcomes come from starting at a point where you know what the end result is supposed to be and you’re working toward that, as opposed to grabbing the next thing that comes in on the transit.

— Peter J. Lieberman

Douglas Sibila stays steady at the wheel as Peoples Services pursues acquisitions

 

Peoples Services Inc. has shifted gears with third-generation President and CEO Douglas Sibila behind the wheel. Gone are the days when organic growth was sufficient to fuel the 104-year-old company. Now acquisitions are key to success. Fortunately for Peoples, the timing is right, and its reputation and old-fashioned who-you-know networking are driving opportunity.

“A lot of baby boomers are starting to retire,” Sibila says. “They’re looking to possibly sell and fortunately, I’m at a young enough age that I am interested in acquiring. There are fewer of us in my age range than baby boomers, so that creates some opportunities from our perspective.”

The number of operators in the segmented logistics and warehousing industry who are looking to exit could rise given the general success over the past few years of companies in this industry. Word has spread about Peoples’ reputation for fairness in its dealmaking approach, which gives exiting owners confidence that their employees have a future and won’t be seen as line items that can be cut to create a more profitable acquisition. And that gives Peoples a chance to absorb more companies into its regional network.

To capitalize on this moment, Sibila has devised a growth strategy designed to enable Peoples to not just survive in the changing market, but thrive.

Taking the wheel

Peoples’ approach to acquiring Terminal Warehouse in 2010, the deal that was the first in a series of relatively rapid acquisitions, is considered the foundation for those that followed.

With the Terminal deal on the horizon, the company spent 2009 making adjustments that allowed it to remain profitable during the downturn. It also had a lot of equipment that was fully depreciated, but still had significant market value to leverage. Those factors enabled it to borrow at a time when others had trouble renewing their lines of credit, giving Peoples the chance to take advantage of the bottom of the cycle.

The success of the Terminal Warehouse transaction and paying off that debt gave Sibila additional cash flow to make the next acquisition, pay it off and move on to the next. It’s also the deal that marks the start of the Douglas Sibila era, which is characterized by buying healthy rather than undercapitalized companies with an eye toward maintaining or improving Peoples’ total profit margin.

Acquisitions haven’t always been wholly under Sibila’s control. When he joined the family company in 1990, Sibila spent his first decade as part of the due diligence team. When he became president around 2001, his father moved into the chairman role and began hunting for, rather than executing, deals, handing off opportunities to his son who became a majority shareholder in 2010.

Today, Sibila leads a deal team that consists of a few key management staff, his father, and some outside advisers. Now before an opportunity is presented to that group, it comes through Sibila, who does a lot of the due diligence and prep work upfront.

“We walk away from a lot more than we ever get serious about,” he says.

To find deals, the company looks at trade magazines, networks within trade associations and fields calls from brokers it’s worked with. Sibila believes Peoples gets those calls because the company is reasonable to work with.

“We keep in touch with those people and that’s why we’ve been around for 100 years. I believe in karma in the sense that if you do what’s right, things have a way of falling into place. Because we’ve handled those transactions well, not only are the sellers satisfied with how we approach things, so are the brokers,” he says.

For example, when first presented with an opportunity to acquire Style Crest Logistics in 2014, a lead that came to him from a broker on an earlier deal, he was interested, but wanted to digest an acquisition that the company had recently completed. So he passed.

“I even gave him a reference to a couple other people I knew in the industry,” he says.

About a year later, after other transactions had fallen through, the frustrated seller came back to Peoples to see if there was interest. The timing was right and Peoples closed the deal in September of ’15.

Integration

Through its current approach, the company has grown into seven states with 42 locations. It owns Peoples Cartage, Total Distribution, Crown Warehousing & Logistics, Terminal Warehousing, Quick Delivery Service, Central Warehouse Operations and most recently Grimes Logistics Services Inc. (now Grimes Total Distribution) for a total of 7.5 million square feet of warehousing space. Its revenue has doubled since 2012 and more than quadrupled from what it was in 2009.

A human touch enables KHM Travel Group to thrive in a tech-dominated industry

 

An entrepreneur’s path doesn’t always progress along a straight line. It zigs and zags, goes uphill and down, and sometimes dead-ends. And sometimes it leaves engineering school in Akron, winds through travel school in Florida, and takes a 25-year detour in the construction industry before terminating into a wildly successful travel agency in Brunswick.

Rick Zimmerman is the president and CEO of KHM Travel Group. He co-founded the company in 2005, and has grown it despite the general decline of the industry, which has been besieged by popular book-it-yourself websites.

Between 2012 and 2017, KHM more than doubled sales while adding 1,000 agents to its bullpen of 3,000, in large part by putting a premium on personalization to compete with the impersonal technology that has become so dominant.

But getting where he is today wasn’t always a given. Having studied engineering at the University of Akron, Zimmerman was set for a career in drafting. He came by it honestly — his father and brother were both engineers — and took to it naturally.

He’d been working in engineering from a young age. While at a soils and concrete lab, he was exposed to the legal nitpicking and financial hand-wringing of the business. By age 21, the field no longer excited him.

Rather than finish his degree, Zimmerman left his native state and preordained career for Kissimmee, Florida, where he attended Southeastern Academy, a travel school run out of a converted Howard Johnson. He breezed through the year-and-a-half program, headed back home to Parma and took a job with the first travel agency that offered him a position: ’Round the World Travel.

“They tapped into the fact that I was a numbers guy, so they let me do what was called the IATA report back then. Now it’s called an ARC report. I got to break down the commissions that we would make for all of our airline tickets,” Zimmerman says.

It was essential, but tedious work, and not at all what Zimmerman wanted to do. He thought he’d travel the world and plan spectacular trips for clients. Instead, he was sitting in front of a typewriter doing reports and air ticketing for minimum wage.

Disillusioned and barely eking out a living, Zimmerman stepped out of the travel business and joined his brother who, wanting to start a construction company, dangled an attractive carrot in front of his brother: more money. But a couple years in, his brother took his business to California to retrofit buildings for earthquake standards. Zimmerman didn’t go with him. Instead, he launched a home remodeling company.

His business, Diversified Services, grew through word of mouth, largely based on work he and his small crew would do for folks he knew from church. Looking to accelerate his growth, he started placing ads in TV Guide.

“One of the things I was noticing was the client that I would get from the TV Guide was not the same kind of client that I was getting from word of mouth,” Zimmerman says. “I was getting a shopper from advertising.”

These shoppers chased price, unlike the word-of-mouth clients who pursued him based on the quality of his outfit’s work. That led to an important revelation and change of tactic, which would inform his later venture.

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.

Sustain

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 www.leadersreadynow.com.

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 (uswcc.org). 

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 www.armorcorrectional.com 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.”

Takeaways

  • 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 www.mtm-inc.net