It’s awards season for Smart Business Columbus.
We have four winners who were honored at our inaugural Smart Women event from a group of strong finalists.
Three specialty award winners were selected for the 2015 class of Smart 50, which were announced at the end of October.
Junior Achievement is inducting two business leaders into its Central Ohio Business Hall of Fame this month.
And the Medical Mutual Pillar Awards for Community Service are just around the corner.
So, what makes these business executives rise to the top? They are leaders — leaders who promote gender equality, spark innovation, nurture business continuity and more.
They might do it differently, but they each know how to inspire their employees, structure their organizations and work with their clients to generate long-term success.
Leadership is a term that can be overused in business, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Let’s take a look at what these business executives have to say about their organizations and leadership.
Central Ohio Business Hall of Fame
Edgar W. “Bill” Ingram III
Chairman of the Board and CEO
White Castle Systems Inc.
White Castle Systems Inc. is going to hit the 100-year mark under its fourth generation of leadership.
E.W. “Bill” Ingram III will step down as CEO at the end of this year, while staying on as chairman of the board. His daughter Lisa Ingram will move up from president to CEO.
He’s not sure what his grandfather’s expectations were for the company, but Ingram says he would probably be surprised. In fact, for many years, Ingram was the only family member with White Castle; now they have more than a dozen of family members involved.
Ingram says they’ve heard from others who have attempted it that it’s very difficult to keep up that kind of sustainability.
“We understood that if we were to do that, it would be very unusual, and that it was important to put a lot of thought and work into that idea. So we did start, a long time ago, working toward that goal,” he says.
A family atmosphere
Looking at it realistically, if they sold the business, the shareholders would make a lot more money. So Ingram worked with the shareholders to make sure management understood their concerns and that the shareholders were on board with maintaining White Castle as a family business.
It’s certainly something that many of the employees have come to expect.
“All of the team members who have worked here for years and years — this is the only thing they’ve known,” Ingram says.
White Castle has a reputation for retention, because the family atmosphere is something that many people want in an employer, he says. The company annually celebrates employees who have been with the company for 25 years, and this year around 85 people hit that mark.
In addition, in a family business, Ingram has found that it’s very important to set an example as a leader.
Ingram says he used to visit every restaurant and factory once a year. His employees just wanted him to acknowledge that it was important to visit them.
“When I started doing that, I’d meet people, team members, who this was their first job working behind the counter and now they’re in high management positions within the company,” he says.
5 tips for being a better leader
—Vistage, Great Lakes region
Leadership is something that seems to be a bit esoteric. Some are of the opinion that there are people who were just born to be natural leaders. Others hold to the theory that anyone can be taught to excel in positions of authority. The reality is that there is no right answer and both statements can be true.
To achieve business success, an organization or group will only go as far as the person put in the highest position of leadership can take it. There have been countless studies on the qualities that an individual will need to possess to be successful when placed in an authoritative role. For those who didn’t enter the world with the ability to lead people or companies into greatness, there are ways to brush up your skills in this area.
1. Communication is key
While it’s important to lead by example, leaders must also be vocal. Entrepreneur writes that the best leaders are always those who can be heard and whose instructions and directives are easily understood.
It’s also important, however, to be good at listening. Communication goes both ways and leaders should be effective at both delivering information and taking it in.
2. Imitation is the best form of flattery
Those individuals who weren’t born with the natural ability to lead should model their behaviors and actions after someone who is, according to a Forbes article by Alex McClafferty. By mimicking the behavior of someone who excels at leadership, these traits can be quickly adopted and help make you stronger in this area.
3. Keep emotions in check
Being placed in a position of authority, at times, can be overwhelming; triggering an emotional response that isn’t always positive and can diminish one’s standing as a leader.
Entrepreneur suggests that individuals always be mindful of their thoughts and feelings. At the core of leadership are relationships. An emotional outburst triggered by external pressures can have far reaching consequences, such as diminishing one’s standing as an authority figure.
4. Be someone others can trust
With leadership comes a massive amount of responsibility. People placed in this role must be conscious of the fact that there are people who look up to and trust them.
Switch and Shift writes that it’s important for leaders to always keep their word. If errors are made, own up to them. If you commit to something, do it. If you happen to disappoint someone or can’t follow through, be sure to apologize.
Being trustworthy can often be an overlooked aspect of leadership, but it shouldn’t be. The more that people trust you as a leader, the easier it will be to get them to accept your role and follow directives.
5. Understand that you can always be better
After being placed in a position of power or authority, some people adopt the mindset that they’ve reached the pinnacle and, therefore, there’s nothing more for them to learn. This attitude and mindset can be dangerous.
Entrepreneur writes that there are always new skills that can be mastered or some area of leadership that can be worked on. Keeping an open mind mitigates stagnation and helps personal growth. For those who have been tabbed as leaders, this is critical.
You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but authority figures should never feel that they know everything and have no need to gain new knowledge.
Knowing when to quit
One of Ingram’s biggest lessons from his long career leading the family business is that you have to be flexible and change with the times.
“We try experiments from time to time, and sometimes they don’t work,” he says. “And just because it doesn’t work in one instance doesn’t mean it’s not going to work a decade in the future.”
One of the most successful has been selling its restaurant products in grocery stores. White Castle was one of the first to do this, and now the frozen food cases are stocked with restaurant products.
The hardest part about trying something new, however, is realizing when to let go. If it’s not working, Ingram says you may want to stick with it, and often that’s not the right thing to do.
Many of your experiments are going to fail — sometimes more than once. White Castle has fooled around with the concept of two brands under one roof, Ingram says, a couple of different times, but it really hasn’t worked very well either time they’ve tried it.
“In my experience, you should probably quit sooner than you did,” he says.
Chairman and CEO
EXCEL Management Systems
At age 72, Curtis Jewell, chairman and CEO of EXCEL Management Systems, is going strong, but he’s stepped back from the front line. He’s coaching, but doesn’t want to be the No. 1 sales person.
Over the years, he has made connections and tried to walk the walk. Jewell grew up in the country, in a southern household like television’s “The Waltons.”
“That integrity and taking care of your neighbor and you know, being involved in the community was just natural with us always,” he says.
“That’s the good news of being an entrepreneur all your life and coming from an entrepreneur family — you don’t have to hedge, you don’t have to lie, you don’t have to sneak, you don’t have to take shortcuts,” Jewell says. “Because you learn that you’re going to win more than you lose by telling the truth.”
Win more than you lose
To Jewell, leadership is setting an example by taking risks and giving more than receiving. He doesn’t try to litigate everything or get every little piece.
“You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some,” he says “But you’ll win far more than you lose if you approach life, and people the right way. It’s all in style. It’s all in integrity. It’s all in honesty and openness.”
Jewell gives his employees space, trusting them to do the right thing and complete what needs to be done, because people are basically trustworthy, he says. He also expects his executives to own their area of the business within the enterprise.
“We are in the problem-solving business, so I expect whatever the issue is we’ll solve it,” Jewell says. “So I try to encourage my employees always to not be shy of telling me what’s been going on, regardless of what kind of day they’re having.
“I don’t run emergency rooms. I don’t run surgical suites. I don’t run operations where one mistake will kill somebody. So you can make a mistake, and we’ll correct the mistake and go on and learn from it.”
Jewell likes to mentor aspiring entrepreneurs, because so many people helped him. For example, Robert Lazarus Jr. of Lazarus department stores first brought him to Columbus in the 1970s to head up a community substance abuse treatment center. Lazarus had Jewell serve on numerous community boards, and he enjoyed rolling up his sleeves, serving a higher purpose.
So, what are some things that Jewell advises younger people?
He says youngsters must understand whether they are trying to build a business to have a job or wealth. It’s two separate approaches to life and business.
At the same time, he doesn’t advocate young entrepreneurs bringing in investors. In Jewell’s opinion, it’s better to use loans and lines of credit.
“The first thing they want to do is get a partner with their friend, or their cousin or somebody,” he says. “And the next thing, they go under, because (the) two personalities are different.”
As someone involved in wider community leadership, particularly children’s causes, Jewell exposes his employees to activism because he believes you don’t need to build wealth to start giving back.
He also tries to connect organizations, so they aren’t rolling over each other trying to get donations.
The same goes for people. Jewell says that race relations are still stove piped in Columbus, but as a businessman he travels in all circles and he wishes more people would get out of their comfort zone.
“It’s not necessarily due to malice,” he says “It’s just people are historically moving in the circles that they’re used to, and they are overwhelmingly one black and one white. I don’t like that.”