Leslie Braksick: Maintain high performance

Leslie Braksick, co-founder, CLG Inc.

Leslie Braksick, Co-Founder, CLG Inc.

Someone once told me, “A mother is only as happy as her least happy child.” When I became a mom, I realized that is one of the most truthful statements ever. When one of my children is sick or miserable, it’s impossible for me to focus and be 100 percent right with the world.

I have observed the same phenomenon with teams. Much is written about what high-performing teams look like: they communicate well, they are aligned, they are clear on their purpose and success metrics; and they hold themselves accountable.

However, rarely is it acknowledged that a team is only as effective as its least effective member. It’s like a chain being only as strong as its weakest link. A team cannot realize its full potential if one member is unhappy, working against the team’s vision and efforts, or is behaving inconsistently with what the company is trying to instill in its culture.

The multiplier effect

In mathematical terms, a team’s divisor should be one. The team is as good as it is, not compromised by any single variable. And, when the team is really rocking, there is a multiplier effect that makes its value greater than it otherwise should be. The multiplier comes when teams are hitting on all cylinders and become greater than the sum of the individuals.

However, a non-contributing team member — or worse, one who works against the grain of the team — is like having a divisor greater than one. This diminishes the size of the end product, no matter how large the starting number is. The team will always be less than what it could be.

This weakening of potential can manifest itself strategically, operationally or culturally.

Strategically, it shows up as a leader not supporting enterprise initiatives, not putting the best talent on companywide efforts that will drive major changes, or focusing on a single vertical at the expense of other verticals or the enterprise as a whole.

Operationally, it shows up as a leader running the business in a way that dishonors agreed-to strategies and priorities, or engages in practices that do not support company policy or commitments, or making decisions that favor the local to the detriment of the whole.

Culturally or behaviorally, we see things like not speaking up in meetings on important topics for which they have relevant input, or making/implementing decisions without gathering input from key stakeholders, or behaving in ways that don’t align with the company’s stated values.

Poorly functioning teams a hazard

The ongoing cost of a poorly functioning team can be high. So what can you do about an ineffective team member?

Always start by making the person aware of the effect that his/her actions are having on the rest of the team and the company — and do it in a way that enables learning on both sides. There may be factors not apparent to others that are causing the team member’s behavior.

The conversation must be about listening as well as telling. Feedback should be given by the person’s boss, a senior HR person, or an outside adviser who may be hired to do a 360 assessment. It is important that the dialogue be constructive to enable a more productive future.

If the feedback changes the behavior, that is wonderful. But if not, then ultimately you have to decide whether this individual’s value outweighs his/her cost. If you can’t change the person’s behavior, your behavior may be to change the person.

 

Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., MPH is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” (2010), and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits” (2000, 2007). Dr. Braksick and her team help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or [email protected]

Take a deep breath…and read how Trina Gordon sold her team on big changes at Boyden World Corp.

Trina Gordon, president and CEO, Boyden World Corp.

Trina Gordon, president and CEO, Boyden World Corp.

Trina Gordon looked at her company’s clients and could see that they wanted more. It wasn’t that Boyden World Corp. had done a bad job of meeting their needs. They just had more needs to be met.

“What we began to notice out of this downturn was challenges in the macroeconomic environment continued to persist globally,” says Gordon, president and CEO at the professional services firm.

“Clients, particularly global clients and emerging global clients all over the worldwide landscape were becoming more demanding about greater consistency and quality of service from their advisers,” she says. “What that meant was we needed to take a really hard look at what was an effective client advisory relationship.”

It can be a tough pill to swallow when you feel like you’re giving maximum effort to help your clients and then you find out that you could be doing it better.

“There’s a little bit of that in your psyche that says, ‘I want to hear the great things I’m doing,’” Gordon says. “I’m not sure I want to hear where I didn’t do as well or where I need to improve. But it’s the only way we’re going to get better at what they want us to do and deepen the relationship.”

Sometimes, you’ve got to set your ego aside, even when you’re a top 10 global executive search firm with 250 associates in more than 70 offices and 40 countries around the world.

“Sometimes partnerships tend to be more process-driven and internally focused and concerned with the practices and processes of how we do our work,” Gordon says. “In this case, we had to turn that perception completely around and push our organization facing outward at potential and existing clients. We had to build a foundation for how everything we did focused on what they told us they needed and how we performed against those needs and requirements.”

Get to the point 

In the simplest terms, clients were looking for more bang for their buck with Boyden.

“Clients were no longer saying we have talent or human capital needs in emerging markets and anybody sitting in an emerging market can help us,” Gordon says. “What they began to say was we want real sector expertise, sometimes even deep functional expertise. You need to understand our business in a unique way. We began to see as a board, as a partnership, a real tipping point in how clients look at the professional services sector.”

Gordon wanted to respond swiftly, but methodically to this change in the marketplace. It needed to be done, but it needed to be done right.

“The challenge for a firm like our’s is how do you respond to those trends in a way that really adds differentiating value to clients,” Gordon says. “How were we going to uniquely stand apart from our competition and ensure that we could meet those client needs at an increasingly and more complicated demand level?”

One of the first things Gordon did was meet with all Boyden’s global partners and her leadership team. It would serve as a foundational meeting to begin developing a strategy to transform the firm.

“The message was we have this opportunistic window in our own retained search business to drive this concept forward and lead it as a premier global search firm, the first to do so,” Gordon says.

One of the next steps was a global conference in Asia where many of the firm’s key leaders sat down and defined the things that they felt the firm needed to represent going forward. These leaders had spoken with clients and gathered feedback. Now it was time to lay it all out there so Boyden could begin to shape its strategy.

“Part of what clients have shared with us is we want to have a singular kind of experience with you,” Gordon says. “That means you need to understand who we are and what our business strengths are. Understand our business. Get under our skin. Be sector specific with us. You have to demonstrate a genuine understanding of who we are, which meant the difference between a robust client relationship and one that isn’t robust.”

Know what you don’t know

There is a word of caution that must be addressed for any firm that is looking to adapt what it does for its clients. You better have a good idea of what you stand for before you begin the transformation.

“When we stray from our core expertise and we stretch out and try to do something we’re not capable of doing, we’re no longer acting with integrity and it ultimately will affect the client relationship,” Gordon says.

“We have to be able to know what our strengths are, be true to them and have the courage to say, ‘This is how we can best help you.’ We also have to be honest with the client and say, ‘This is what we can do and this is what we can’t do well.’ We’re not going to risk our relationship for the sake of saying we can be all things to a client.”

If you don’t know what your core beliefs and expertise are, then how will you know whether the thing you’re being asked to do fits in? You have to be clear about it so that you can give your best effort and performance on the project.

“It’s one thing to stretch in an area where we have done some work and there’s expertise elsewhere in our firm to help us and guide us and draw upon and bring into the client equation,” Gordon says.

“It’s another when it’s completely further afield from the core expertise of the firm. That’s where you can get into trouble with a client. And it’s very hard to recover a relationship that you’ve damaged.”

Be methodical

Boyden is a big firm and so there was a ton of information and data to sort through as this transformation took place. It was incumbent upon Gordon to not let it overwhelm her team.

“It’s important to take a step back, center yourself and think through what’s really important,” Gordon says. “Prioritize and move in steps. You’ll overwhelm the organization if you try to do much too soon without a coherent message, without responsible buy-in and without a very clear approach to staying true to who you are. “We’re still evolving as an organization because change is not always an easy thing. What I’ve learned is to take a deep breath and make sure you’re confident in the people around you and confident in what your clients are telling you.”

You want to please your clients and that’s obviously the most important thing. But don’t let it affect your work and force you into a pace that will result in a substandard final product.

You also need to make sure you’re cognizant of your personnel resources. What skills can your people jump right in and take on and which ones will require some level of training?

“You can’t just assume you have a completely homogenous organization that all can move forward at the same time toward this enhanced approach with clients,” Gordon says. “One of the things I tried to do very early with our leadership team was reach out to those key voices inside our firm who embody this work already and who are our greatest client advocates.”

You undoubtedly have some people in your company who can be trainers and who can help their peers grow. Tap into that resource and put it to use. And for other people who need to learn some new skills, do what you can to help them.

“There’s a lot going on inside a complex organization,” Gordon says. “Not everybody can drink from a fire hose at the same time. So you need to be able to call upon your leadership, those individuals that people respect and know that already embody this expertise with clients and utilize their knowledge base and their talent to train, teach and enrich younger partners or partners that are new to the profession. That is a continual process.”

It’s a process that will likely never be completely wrapped up. There’s always more to learn and more to figure out and Gordon says they’ll just keep on trying to do the best they can for their clients. But this process has already put the firm in a better position to serve those clients.

“Our dashboard is built, our metrics are built, so all of it is now launched,” Gordon says. “We’re at this exciting period where you’re diving off the board hand in hand with your client into this brave new milieu. I see it as a continual evolution that our own firm and each and every one of our partners will sort of continuously travel together.”

How to reach: Boyden World Corp., (312) 565-1300 or www.boyden.com

 

The Gordon File

Trina Gordon, president and CEO, Boyden World Corp.

Born: Alliance, Ohio

Education: Bachelor’s degree, political science; master’s degree, public administration, Auburn University

What did you want to be growing up?

From the time I was little, I always wanted to be an equine veterinarian. So my interest in Auburn, at least prior to going there, was they have one of the finest equine veterinary schools in the country. When I went there, I fell in love with the philosophy of the university, the campus and the people. But I found that the pre-veterinary program, I didn’t have the constitution for invasive medicine. So my dream of becoming an equine vet versus the leader of a professional search firm is quite different. So I switched majors, I stayed and I loved it.

What was your very first job?

In the summer, my brother and I ran a custom car detailing business part of the day out of my parents’ garage. Then in the afternoons, I ran a daycare nursery school for kids in our area. I had about 10 to 12 kids at a time and they were ages six to 10.

Who would you like to meet and why?

I love history, so if I had the opportunity to sit down with anyone, it would be Elizabeth I. I would like to know how a woman who was the first leader of a powerful, yet fledgling nation was able to bring a divided country together and bring them to global prominence. How she was able to unify them behind an individual who heretofore in their history, had never been a woman and reign long and lasting over a very respectful populace. She was able to gain the credibility of all the men around her and win respect around medieval Europe.

Takeaways:

Be clear about your goals.

Understand your limitations.

Don’t rush just to get it done.

Deborah Sweeney – Three tips to help you enjoy your summer, and get the work done too

Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation Business Services Inc.

Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation Business Services Inc.

It’s 2:30 in the afternoon on a sweaty Wednesday. You answer what feels like millions of emails, check a few items off your to-do list and take a lap around the office to stretch. You look sure that enough time has passed to make it 5 o’clock. But it’s only 2:35. Only five minutes have gone by.

It’s easy to get stuck in a summer rut. Unless there’s a BBQ and lemonade stand in each of your employee’s cubicles, being in the office is probably not an employee’s ideal location on a summer afternoon. It’s harder to stay focused and on track with projects and assignments when it seems like virtually everyone is on vacation or taking on new shift hours.

Don’t let the temperature and the temptation of playing hooky to go to the beach get to your employees before you can. Here are a few tips to keep your team focused while still having fun in the office all summer long.

Go on the occasional field trip

During the summer, I like to take my team on a “field trip” every now and then. We’ll walk to the nearest frozen yogurt establishment for a cool treat or to our local Starbucks to get just the right amount of caffeine to finish out the day.

It’s a nice break in the day that everyone appreciates. Sometimes it’s all you need to get motivated to finish out the afternoon strong.

I make it a point to get the team talking on our outing — do a little team building together with some quick exercises. Last summer, I asked my employees to go around and each say a word they associate with starting a small business and their favorite summer memory. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

Be understanding when it comes to time off

I am a firm believer in fully being a boss when I’m at the office and fully being a mom when I’m at home. As long as I work the absolute hardest I can during the day and get everything on my to-do list checked off, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to head out early to catch my son’s soccer game.

I apply that same principle to my employees. As long as they have everything done and done well, early dismissal and later arrivals in the morning every now and then is fine.  During the summertime, it’s important to be flexible with everyone’s schedules and work around them.

That’s not to say your employees should get out of the office for every little thing that comes up. But when something important unexpectedly happens, try to accommodate around that moment as best as you can.

Keep the watercooler filled

Obviously, you’ll be doing this for hydration purposes, but what I’m getting at here is to make sure your office has a laidback, summer-friendly atmosphere. Keep plenty of water available for everyone, a steady stream of A/C (with plenty of fans on hand) and a nice refreshing fruit bowl for a healthy summer snack.

It’s the small gestures that let your employees know that you have their best interest at heart, especially when it’s 104 degrees outside.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.

Matthew Figgie and Rick Solon: Finding character and cultural fit

Matthew Figgie, chairman, Clark-Reliance Corp.

Matthew Figgie, chairman, Clark-Reliance Corp.

It is always difficult to find the right employees, not only people with technical skills but with other traits that will ensure long-term success for your organization.

Finding the right culture “fit” in terms of character and personality traits begins with the creation of the job requirements, preliminary candidate screening and the interview process. Preparation is critical before the interview to develop a series of questions designed to reveal the key traits desired of an employee.

At Clark-Reliance, our first hiring objective is to find candidates with superior technical qualifications and skills necessary to perform the tasks of a particular position. However, a candidate must also have the personal qualifications and skills to thrive in our corporate culture.

Identifying the major character traits that allow employees to fit comfortably into your organization and excel in their work allows you to create the appropriate interview questions. At Clark-Reliance, we have identified four major character traits necessary for an employee to have so that he or she will fit into our culture.

Self-awareness and personal accountability

Rick Solon, president and CEO, Clark-Reliance Corp.

Rick Solon, president and CEO, Clark-Reliance Corp.

Our goal is to find employees who have the ability to analyze and critique themselves. We want people to take accountability for their actions and success.

Continuous improvement

We want to find employees who are constantly seeking to sharpen their skills, which means either developing skills further or seeking skills they do not currently possess.

Passion

Simply stated, we want employees who have passion for their job and for our company.

Communication

We want employees who are willing to speak their mind as well as listen to other’s thoughts and ideas. A collaborative environment makes all employees invested in the development of the company.

In order to identify these traits in potential employees you should use behavioral type questions like the ones below:

Self-awareness

  • What are three accomplishments or significant successes that you identify with and take great pride?
  • What would your present or former boss say about you? What would he or she have liked to see you do differently?
  • Can you tell me about a mistake you made, either work or personal, that taught you a significant lesson?

Continuous Improvement

  • Where have you sought to improve yourself over the last three months?
  • How would a co-worker describe you?
  • What personal needs do you think this position will satisfy?

Passion

  • What has been your toughest job? How did you handle this job?
  • Has a job ever conflicted with your thoughts of what is right or wrong? If so, how did you handle it?
  • What work situations irritate you or make you angry?

Communication

  • If you were involved in a heated discussion with a fellow co-worker, would you be more comfortable in the role of the peacemaker or decision-maker? Why?
  • Have you taken the initiative to handle something that is technically out of your area of responsibility? Why did you choose to handle the situation that way?
  • How do you deal with your boss when he or she overrides a major decision that you have made?

 

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate cochairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.

G.A. Taylor Fernley – Three questions that can help you turn followers into leaders

G.A. Taylor Fernley

G.A. Taylor Fernley, president and CEO, Fernley & Fernley

Critical thinking: It sounds like it should be limited to academia; right? Wrong.

While critical-thinking skills are, in fact, central to academic research, they are equally important in the business environment.

As we explore effective techniques to increase visibility and influence in the workplace, we need to become the “professor” of critical thinking for our vital team members. We need to serve as a model for them to follow. Critical thinking, in its simplest of terms, is a questioning process. Consider these three questions to encourage your employees to start thinking critically about their own individual actions.

•           I hear your question. What’s your answer?

•           What would you do if I weren’t here?

•           Are you using your brain or your gut?

“I hear your question. What’s your answer?”

In their haste to keep projects moving, most management teams instinctively want to provide quick solutions when employees have problems or questions. This approach is archaic in today’s business world and does not foster critical thinking. It teaches employees to only rely on your strengths rather than developing their own.

Consider this as an alternative: Make it a policy that whenever an employee comes to you with a problem, he or she must also offer at least one solution. Force them to do some advanced thinking. This gives you, then, an opportunity to have a more constructive and fruitful discussion.

“What would you do if I weren’t here?”

Being a good manager does involve some parenting. Sorry about that. Your job is to use your leadership skills to coach employees to become self-sufficient. Continue to strengthen their critical-thinking muscles by turning the questions back to them, answering a question with a question.

•           “What are the downside risks if we take this action?”

•           “What if we did A instead of B?”

•           “What if the opposite were true?”

In most cases, that employee already knows the answer. Don’t do their work for them; but rather use it as a development opportunity.

“Are you using your brain or your gut?”

Many managers pride themselves on the soundness of their “gut instinct.” They often make quick decisions based solely on sudden flashes of intuition.

Bad idea! That’s not to say that intuition is invalid. But to be effective, it needs to be backed up with logic. If you’re modeling decision-making behavior based solely on gut instinct, you might be doing your associates a disservice.

Remember the old bumper sticker “Question Authority”? When an employee comes to you with a gut-based decision, you need to start questioning.

Consider the following questions in your dialogue.

•           “Why do you think this will work?”

•           “What assumptions have you made?”

•           “What alternatives might we consider?”

When an employee’s decision is successful, acknowledge it. Remember: praise in public (and criticize in private). If he or she makes a mistake, use it as a learning opportunity. Our job as leaders is, again, to be the catalyst for positive change. Serve as that role model for others to follow and use your “PhD in critical thinking” to move your company forward.

G. A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company providing professional management services to non-profit organizations since 1886. He can be reached at [email protected], or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.

Jim Weddle is positioning Edward Jones to be the top of mind choice

Since January 2006, when Jim Weddle first took over the managing partner position at Edward Jones, he has kept a keen focus on growing the investment firm to new heights. In 2007 he and his team laid out a five-year plan that they updated in 2010, but that was a mere steppingstone to the vision the firm rolled out last year.

In January 2012, Weddle unleashed what Edward Jones is calling its Vision for 2020. Focusing on growing the firm in three key areas — financial advisers, assets under care and households deeply served — Weddle’s vision won’t just have Edward Jones reaching new heights, it might just be soaring.

“Today, in a lot of markets, we are not the top-of-mind choice,” Weddle says. “We don’t have the presence that we need. It’s going to take us several years to get there, but we think we’ve got the way to do so.”

Edward Jones is a leader in the financial services industry that serves nearly 7 million clients with the help of 12,500 financial advisers and more than 34,000 total employees. The firm reported 2012 revenue of $4.96 billion, a mere fraction of what is planned for the years ahead.

“There is a huge demographic opportunity, and we need to better position ourselves,” Weddle says. “We’ve put a lot of tools in place. We’ve put additional products and services in place to enhance the client’s experience and to enable us and position us to do an even better job for them.”

Here is how Weddle formulated Edward Jones’ long-term vision and is beginning to make it a reality.

Joseph James Slawek – Four tips to help you build a more courageous workplace

Joseph James Slawek, Founder, Chairman and CEO, FONA International

Joseph James Slawek, Founder, Chairman and CEO, FONA International

The fear of failure is something that even the most successful and gifted of employees can bring with them to the office.

They are afraid the product won’t be successful or the phone call won’t be returned. I can still remember being almost terrified to make a sales call on one of the largest food companies in the world because I was afraid I would fail.

If we don’t work through this fear, it will almost certainly lead to paralysis.

We procrastinate while waiting for better conditions to develop and remain “stuck” where we are, rather than where we want to be. I must admit I put off starting some new initiatives using that same fear-based rationale. I can clearly recall thinking, “Maybe I will launch my own business, once some additional favorable elements fall into place.”

I was stuck.

But it is our job to help our people overcome their fears and prevent them from becoming stuck. We need to create a courageous workplace. Here are a few techniques I have used to build a courageous workplace for my wonderful employees.

Pursue excellence 

The tool that best fights fear is the pursuit of excellence. It’s the vitamin shot that gives everyone the confidence to move forward. Teach your employees that their performance goal is excellence and giving their best effort in everything.

Aiming for perfection will drain an organization of its confidence and vigor. The goal is excellence! Write it on the office walls, put it as your email footer and repeat it often when you address the organization. Live it. The relentless pursuit of excellence should be part of the fabric of your company.

Embrace failures 

To paraphrase a brilliant sentiment by Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” we shouldn’t fear failure — it is mediocrity we should be afraid of. Failures mean people were trying new things, rather than standing still.

Encourage employees to take risks. Empower them to fail. Foster curiosity and innovation. Embrace the belief that mistakes are how we grow, and growing employees build strong, innovative and dynamic workplaces.

Overcome paralysis 

This technique involves getting the person to clearly decide a specific time when they will “stop working” on a project rather than a stop time. A stop time is far more helpful if they are already struggling to get it started or keep it moving.

In this way, the person moves on to another project, rather than feeling that frustrating, wheel-spinning experience of getting nowhere fast.

Stop time works at home, too. For example, instead of asking my teenage daughter when she will begin her homework, I ask her to set a time when she will stop doing her homework. “I will be done with my homework by 8:00 so I can watch ‘The Bachelor’ on TV,” she responds with a big grin on her face.

Be quick to encourage 

As the senior leader, your ability to encourage is essential for a healthy, courageous organization. You are watched closely by your people and are expected to “give heart” (which defines courage) as they pursue routine and difficult objectives. Remember — a courageous, encouraging heart is a talent multiplier!

As we help our employees overcome the fear holding them back at work, we begin to build their energy, confidence and freedom. And you need all three of these qualities flourishing in your people in order for you to operate a successful business.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of Fona International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit www.fona.com

Adventure on wheels drives Bernie Moreno as his passion and honesty turns one car dealership into 24 at Collection Auto Group

Bernie Moreno, President, Collection Auto Group

Bernie Moreno, President, Collection Auto Group

Bernie Moreno has always had a great love for cars. They had to be in his life. So as a 25-year-old, he went to work as a general manager of Herb Chambers’ Saturn dealership in Boston. During the course of 12 years there, he became Chambers’ vice president.

Moreno’s success caught the attention of Mercedes-Benz who asked Moreno if he would move to Cleveland to run a Mercedes-Benz dealership. Moreno agreed.

“I came in to Cleveland to see what this dealership was all about before I bought it,” Moreno says. “I pulled up here with my wife, I saw a salesperson, and I told him I was thinking about either a Lexus or a Mercedes — and I’m moving to Cleveland.

“The salesperson said, ‘I don’t understand why you’d want to move to Cleveland. This is the worst place on Earth to live. The people suck, the weather sucks, the economy sucks. I was born here and I’ve been trying to leave here since I came out of the womb.’ This is what the guy said to me.

“So I said, ‘People don’t buy Mercedes here?’ He said, ‘This is a blue-collar town. If we sell 10 to 15 cars a month, that’s a great month. If we sell 20, we’re dancing on the tables.’”

Moreno could have been discouraged, but he wasn’t. The dealership had been selling 200 cars a year before Moreno took over. He came in and set the goal high for the new dealership team.

“We came in, and I said to myself, ‘We can’t live selling five cars a month,’” Moreno says. “In our first sales meeting, May 13, 2005, I said, ‘We’re going to sell 100 cars a month.’

“We knew we had to do that because if we didn’t sell 100 cars a month, I couldn’t pay me, let alone my staff. I had to succeed because if I didn’t I would be in big trouble because I just committed my entire life to this endeavor.”

Here is how Moreno, president of Collection Auto Group, took one Mercedes-Benz dealership and built it into the Collection Auto Group that we know in Cleveland today.

Manage growth

When Moreno was working in Boston prior to 2005, he was helping run what was the sixth-largest privately owned dealership group in America with $1.5 billion in annual sales. In early 2005, he took over a dealership that sold only 200 cars a year.

“The difference is this one is mine and that one I just worked for,” Moreno says.

At that time, Moreno’s focus was to establish the dealership in the Cleveland area and create the right culture within the company.

“What helped in that tremendously was the fact that 12 guys moved from Boston to Cleveland with me,” he says. “That was a huge help, because when you’re establishing a culture, you need a critical mass of people who feel the same way that you do philosophically.”

Moreno says his desire to create further opportunities for the business fueled the dealership group’s growth the most. This, in turn, created opportunities for his staff.

“You can’t have all these guys in one store and challenge them and keep them growing,” he says. “All of them now have their own dealership that they run or a larger position within the company, which is great.”

In 2005, the dealership sold 24 cars between Jan. 1 and May 11. From May 12 to May 31 that year, it sold 80 cars. From that point on, Moreno and his team have been hitting their goal of 100 cars a month and then some.

“Our focus right now is really managing our growth,” he says. “We started with one dealership. We took over a small 200-car-a-year Lexus building. We finished the building in September 2008 right after Lehman Brothers collapsed. We used the opportunity to grow, and that growth was somewhat tame versus what we are doing today.”

Recently, Moreno has been expanding his business almost exponentially. Within the past year alone, the company has opened a Volkswagen dealership, a second Infiniti dealership, a new Nissan dealership, is building a new Mercedes-Benz dealership in Cincinnati and has been renovating several properties.

Moreno has plenty of projects to keep him busy. He has to buy the land for the new dealerships, build the dealerships, meet the individual car company’s requirements and hire people to run the dealerships. On top of all of that, Moreno still has to look after the other dealerships he has in operation.

Today, Moreno runs a collection of 24 dealerships, which led to the name, Collection Auto Group. The company is a more than 400-employee, $350 million car dealership group that sells Acura, Aston Martin, Buick, Fisker, GMC, Infiniti, Lotus, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, smart, Spyker, Vpg, Volkswagen and Maserati brands.

“It was never the intention to move to Cleveland to have a small little dealership,” Moreno says. “That wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t necessarily think I was going to have 24 dealerships in seven or eight years, but I knew it wasn’t going to be a small dealership.”

Moreno may have been worried about car sales when the dealership first started, but in 2012 alone, Collection Auto Group sold 6,500 cars companywide.

“It’s is a big change,” he says. “Managing growth is like blowing up a balloon — you want to make sure you manage it properly, because otherwise you’re going to do it too fast.”

There are several factors that have helped Moreno and Collection Auto Group in its growth trajectory, but above all else, it comes back to the fact that Moreno loves cars.

“No. 1, you have to do what you love because if you’re not doing what you love, then you’re never going to be as successful as you can be,” he says. “For me, cars have always been a passion since I was a little kid.”

Another thing Moreno says has aided in his success is that he didn’t chase money. In fact, Moreno was making more money in Boston before he moved to Cleveland, but he wanted the opportunity to be his own boss.

“The biggest mistake people make is they follow money,” he says. “They’ll take a job because it pays more or they do this business because they’ll be rich. Money follows; money doesn’t lead.”

While people may make a certain move because it means more money, people will also find excuses for reasons that they can’t do something due to a lack of capital.

“If you have a great idea and you have passion, money will find you,” Moreno says. “When I bought Mercedes-Benz North Olmsted in 2005, I bought it with every dollar I had ever saved in my life. I joke that if I could have put a mortgage on my socks, I would have. It was never a scenario where I worried about getting the money to put this together.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘How badly do you want something? How badly do you believe that it can succeed? And how much do you believe in yourself?’ If the answer to all of that is at the top level, money will find you.”

Lastly, Moreno’s success has been made possible by the team he has put together at Collection Auto Group.

“You have to give people reason to follow you and be with you,” he says. “Why would somebody leave a job if not for the opportunity for personal growth, career advancement and learning? That’s the promise you have to deliver.”

Define your business

Once Moreno and his team started to get settled in Cleveland, the focus had to shift to creating a strong culture and one that would define how the business operated.

“You have to define your business,” Moreno says. “What business are you really in? A lot of my peers would say, ‘We’re in the car business. Look around, it’s a bunch of cars that we sell and service.’

“If you define that you’re in the car business, it’s an extraordinarily narrow definition. If you ask any employee in our company, whether it’s a receptionist, a car wash kid, a technician or a salesperson, they would say, ‘We’re in the customer service business.’”

Collection Auto Group sells cars, but it’s in the customer service business, and as a result, everybody understands that nothing is more important.

“When a customer walks through that door you should treat them like (they’re) the reason I’m here today, not like an inconvenience,” Moreno says. “My door is always open. If I’m willing to do that, what does it mean to everybody else in our organization?”

Moreno’s attention to clients goes far beyond making sure he gives them his time when they need it. He wants to change the car-buying experience.

“Some people hate buying cars,” he says. “But people love to buy iPhones. What’s the difference? The difference is that car dealers have made it painful for customers to buy cars. Car dealers have made the buying process completely unenjoyable, and it should be the complete opposite.”

Before Apple, people hated buying computers too. Now, people often just go to the Apple store to hang out because they made it fun and interesting.

“In the car business, it should be the same way, and the biggest thing that gets in people’s way is this fear when you walk through the front door that you’re going to be taken advantage of,” Moreno says. “Knowing that, we try to create a culture that says, ‘Let’s get rid of that anxiety.’”

Collection Auto Group tries to be extraordinarily transparent to make the negotiation process quick and easy. That transparency helps attract customers.

“If a customer walks in and they are looking at a Mercedes-Benz C300 and the sticker price is $42,500 … and their trade-in is worth $20,000, you have to ask yourself how much effort you are willing to put into this thing,” he says.

“How much are you willing to battle and let me wear you down? How much time do you want to spend wearing me down and are you willing to invest two or three hours to make that happen? Let’s say you do. At the end of three hours of going back and forth, how much do you really enjoy your car now? You hate it.”

Moreno utilizes the fact that customers these days are well-informed about car prices and what their trade-ins are worth; transparency and honesty with the customer saves time and effort.

“You know that I’m going to sell you the car for the price that’s going to be more than fair,” he says. “That creates a customer for life because they know that we will take better care of them than anybody else.”

Today, Collection Auto Group is well-established in the Cleveland market and sells all the car brands that it wants without any brand competing against another in the portfolio.

“Now that we’ve built this thing, we can take it for a drive and really expand exponentially with the brands we have right now,” Moreno says. ●

How to reach: Collection Auto Group, (440) 716-2700 or www.collectionautogroup.com

Takeaways

Do what you love and believe that you can make it successful.

Create a culture that separates you from competition.

Treat customers with respect and honesty and success will come.

The Moreno File

Bernie Moreno

President

Collection Auto Group

Born: Colómbia, South America, but he grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Education: Went to University of Michigan and received his undergraduate degree in business.

Goal: To be the chairman of the board of GM

What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

At 12-years-old, I delivered newspapers at 2 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale. My mom also owned three real estate offices so after delivering newspapers I went to work for her and ran the bookkeeping at 14 or 15 years old. That taught me that family businesses are a challenge, and it wasn’t something I was interested in.

What got you into cars?

When I went to Michigan I worked for Automobile magazine.

What was your first car?

A Honda CRX. I saw it on the cover of Car & Driver.

What was your favorite car you have owned?

I had an ’89 Ford Mustang GT. That was the coolest car.

If you had to choose a car to own off one of your lots, what would you choose?

Cars are like your children — you’re not supposed to have a favorite. But for me, Mercedes are the cars that I’m most passionate about. If I had to buy one car, it would be a S63 Mercedes.

A culture of transformation helped Theodore Zampetis erase Shiloh Industries’ $290 million debt

 

Theodore Zampetis, retired president and CEO, Shiloh Industries Inc.

Theodore Zampetis, retired president and CEO, Shiloh Industries Inc.

In January 2002, Theodore Zampetis took over as president and CEO of a struggling Shiloh Industries Inc. The leading manufacturer of advanced metal product solutions for high-volume applications in the North American automotive, heavy truck, trailer and consumer markets was $290 million in debt and the banks would not finance the company any further.

Zampetis had only a few weeks to either file a 10K with the SEC or file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Rather than roll over and give in, he began to execute a strategy, and he had to do it quickly.

“I got together with my president and my plant head and said, ‘Here’s what I am going to do. Here’s how I’m going to reduce cost and start creating cash flow tomorrow,’” Zampetis says.

Most people had all but kissed Shiloh Industries goodbye but not Zampetis. He knew he could turn the company around.

“We held a teleconference with the banks and all 12 entities were in on the call, and we explained the plan,” Zampetis says. “‘Here’s what is happening, here’s why it’s happening, and here’s what I’m going to do in the next 15 days, 30 days, three months, six months,’ and on and on.”

With time being of the essence, everybody started signing on quickly. Zampetis went around to each customer and plant to tell customers and employees what has happened, why it has happened and what the company’s plan was.

“I told them, ‘You will look back in six months and be proud of what you accomplished,’” Zampetis says.

Here is how Zampetis nursed Shiloh Industries from the edge of bankruptcy and brought it back to life.

Stop the bleeding

Once Zampetis made everyone aware of the dire situation the company was in, he began to focus on stabilizing the business.

“It was execution in three areas: No. 1, I’ve got to stabilize the company because the company was sick, demoralized and it was dying,” Zampetis says. “Once we stabilized the company, the next thing was figuring out what was the root cause of the problem.”

Zampetis had to understand where the company made money, where it lost money and why it was making or losing money.

“Once we started characterizing the process at each plant internally and focusing internally, it became clear to me what the priorities were in the bigger picture of the company and what I had to do,” he says. “Yes, there were a thousand problems, but I didn’t care about the thousand problems. I only cared about the top 10 problems and how I could attack them quickly one by one.”

At the same time, there were external pressures. For instance, one of Shiloh’s main customers had good news for the company. It still had a multimillion-dollar program with Shiloh that it wanted to continue with the organization. The only problem was that Shiloh had no cash to fund the program.

“I said … ‘We are going to the customer and let me talk,’” Zampetis says. “The next day, we were at the customer talking to the highest level in purchasing, and I told him that, in my 31 years in the business, I never thought I would go to the customer and politely, but with tears in my eyes, tell him that he’d better take the contract he awarded to us and give it to someone else, because we simply have no cash.

“‘Under your terms and conditions, we cannot do it. However, if you help us, we can probably do it and do it better than anybody else in the world.’”

With the banks unwilling to budge because the company was $290 million in debt, Zampetis and the executive director of purchasing at the customer company negotiated back and forth until they agreed to help Shiloh Industries fund the program for them.

“I knew one thing; even though this would be a battle going forward, there was only one way to go, and that was up,” he says. “From that point on, Shiloh Industries started climbing and generating cash flow and applying that cash flow back into the company to protect our critical skills and technologies.”

Shiloh’s critical technologies were devastated. The company needed to understand how to bring them up to be best in class and, at the same time, not to let any program down or make any customer dissatisfied.

“We started generating cash flow and applying it intelligently and above all, started deleveraging the company,” he says.

Remain laser-focused

Once the company began to slowly recover, Zampetis had to make sure to communicate throughout the organization so people stayed focused and kept moving forward strategically.

“If we are going to reinforce a culture of transformation, we have to communicate and we have to communicate not only our problems but give our employees, from top to bottom, an idea of what is the source of the problem,” he says. “You have to have a disciplined mind to characterize the process quickly and identify and measure the impact and analyze.”

Moving forward, Zampetis made sure that any decision he made was strategic.

“When the company is in deep trouble, you’ve got to make decisions strategically about all the wonderful ideas that got you into the problem to begin with,” he says. “The old management team did not learn their lesson.”

Shiloh had three objectives: No. 1, to stabilize the company and start generating cash flow, No. 2, to apply that cash flow to deleverage the company and rebuild the company internally, and No. 3, to develop its people to be disciplined so such past situations never happen again.

But just as the company was regaining its footing, the recession of 2009 hit. Chrysler and GM, which make up 60 percent of Shiloh’s business, filed for bankruptcy.

“Everybody thought we were done,” Zampetis says.

Be forward-thinking

As signs that the economy might be in trouble began to spread, Zampetis and Shiloh Industries were taking precautionary measures.

“If you look at our records and look at what happened in November 2008, I took my salary down to almost nothing because I knew there was going to be a disaster,” Zampetis says.

Shiloh’s sales went down 53 percent, its variable manufacturing cost went down 49 percent and its fixed cost, including Zampetis’ salary, went down 39 percent. However, the company made sure to protect its critical skills during the recession.

“I showed our leadership that in a moment of crisis I wasn’t thinking about lining my pocket,” he says. “I told them, ‘We are suffering and sacrificing right now, but at the end of the day, you will look back and be so proud.’”

During 2009 when all of this was happening, Shiloh Industries ended up generating $18 million extra free cash flow and reduced debt.

“In 2010, we were expecting the industry to start picking up because some of our competitors went bankrupt in 2009, and we picked up a lot of their business,” he says. “Our sales revenue from 2009 to 2010 went up 69.7 percent.”

The company’s productivity nearly doubled, its technology became extremely efficient, quality was exceptional and the employees were pumped up about the company’s progress.

“The year 2011 was a wonderful one, and 2012 was a very good year,” Zampetis says. “We now are a clean-balance-sheet company. We have advanced technologies that are the best in the world.”

Today, Shiloh Industries is a $600 million company with 1,400 employees. With the company back to pre-crisis levels, Zampetis decided to retire as president and CEO in December 2012. However, he left the incoming leadership with a very stable company.

“It will be a two-point approach,” he says. “One is to maintain all the good disciplines and don’t water them down because that would be a big mistake. But then the company’s mission looking forward is growth.” ●

How to reach: Shiloh Industries Inc., (330) 558-2600 or www.shiloh.com     

Michael Kaufman is always looking for the right mix of past heroes and future stars to make SESI go

Michael Kaufman, president and CEO, Specialized Education Services Inc.

Michael Kaufman, president and CEO, Specialized Education Services Inc.

Michael Kaufman has the people who made his company. And he has the people who will make his company.

It’s Kaufman’s job to know the difference.

“Can the heroes of the past become the heroes of the future?” says the president and CEO of Specialized Education Services Inc. “You have to assess if you need the heroes of the past around anymore or if they can become the future of the company.

“It’s hard, because you might really like and respect somebody, but they might not be able to come with you on the journey you’re beginning. It’s tough to move someone along because it’s just not working anymore — especially when they were there to help you grow from the beginning.”

With approximately 1,000 employees throughout the SESI organization — which conducts programs for special-needs students in public school districts throughout 11 states and Washington, D.C. — Kaufman and his leadership team have an ongoing task as they continually analyze the people within the SESI organization, determining what puzzle pieces they have and how they can best fit together to strengthen the organization moving forward.

“When you hire someone, you want to start from day one thinking not only that you hired them for a job, but you start thinking about what they can do here in their career,” Kaufman says. “You start thinking about their leadership trajectory. If people see and feel that, they’re going to want to work for your organization.”

Determining the trajectory of people within the organization means evaluations of their strengths and weaknesses, ways that the strengths can be optimized and ways the weaknesses can be neutralized — either through skill compensation from others or skill enhancement of the individual via training.

“To me, that all comes with building relationships,” Kaufman says. “You need to be very comfortable talking to people about what they’re good at and what they need to work on. If you spend time with people, you can tell them that tough feedback, because they’ve seen that it’s in their own best interest. You want them to do well.”

Assess your people

Not many people like performance reviews. Whether they’re monthly, quarterly or annually, no one relishes the idea of sitting down with their boss and having their work critiqued.

You might not like the fact that your company has to conduct performance reviews. Depending on how many employees you have, it can become a lengthy process involving many different people. It’s man-hours that could be put to use running the business instead of making sure your employees are doing their jobs at an optimum level. But standards have to be maintained.

That’s why Kaufman and his team try to navigate what can be a less-than-pleasant process by continually coming back to the concept of continuous improvement. At SESI, performance reviews focus on the positive aspects of an employee’s work as much as the areas for improvement. Any need for improvement is phrased in the context of the employees’ growth as an individual and a professional.

“We have different areas we look at to assess how a person is doing,” Kaufman says. “Since we are an educational company, we call it ‘A-plus performance.’ That A-plus performance comes around different things that we look at and test. It could be students growing from the beginning of the year to the end. It could be staff assessments of the leaders, district satisfaction surveys or financial targets. We communicate around those regularly.”

In all cases, Kaufman wants his employees to buy in, which makes what he and his staff communicate and how they communicate it vital to the continuous improvement of the organization and the people who work in it.

“I feel that if you create rules and goals from the beginning and you can create buy-in, and you can assess the progress against those goals, nobody feels that they’re getting cheated,” Kaufman says. “It’s very fair.”

One of the ways Kaufman facilitates communication is by creating a sense of ownership between an employee and his or her progress. He doesn’t want supervisors simply dictating an employee assessment. He wants employees to take an active role and look within.

“I love to do self-assessments,” he says. “You ask someone to assess how they are doing, and it’s interesting to see how most people will be tougher on themselves than you will be. It’s great to get someone to look at themselves and acknowledge what they need to work on before you even need to tell them yourself.”

Individuals are often their own worst critic, so in some cases, you need to paint a realistic picture. You don’t want to sugarcoat your assessments, but you don’t want employees to develop an excessively negative view of their performance. It’s something Kaufman reinforces when he brings the leaders of his organization together at meetings.

“When I bring our leaders together — and that’s all our middle and senior leaders, which I do a few times a year — I really try to teach them that communicating with employees is all about authenticity with affinity. You have to be authentic, but you have to have affinity for the person.

“I used to be a big sugarcoater. I only wanted to tell people the positives, and I realized that people liked me, but their respect for me was somewhere in the middle. I found out the more honest I got, it’s what people wanted.

“If a person doesn’t feel like you know them, it feels like criticism when you give them feedback. The glass is only going to be half-full if they know you want them to do well. And you should want them to do well. Your company is only successful if your employees are successful. If they can’t perform, you’re not going to look good.”

Develop new leaders

The practice of assessing the skills, strengths and weaknesses of your team members will only matter if you put your findings to use. Your assessment methods can help identify areas of focus for training and improvement, but it is also going to help you find individual roles that will allow your company to best leverage the skills and talents that each person brings to the table.

Great talent can look less than stellar if people in your company are utilized in roles that don’t properly suit their skills or personality.

“We had one of the most credible people in the company running a school,” Kaufman says. “He was outgoing and gregarious; he loved people and loved the company. But he really struggled with giving tough feedback. If someone was struggling, he would pretty much ignore it and only highlight the positives. That led to a bit of a free-for-all at the school.

“But as far as the school districts, he was amazing. He’d check up with them to see how they were doing, and the people who ran the districts absolutely loved him.

“So I created the position of outreach director for him. It was really where he needed to be. He was so good at it; we’ve added other outreach directors in other parts of the country. He basically created the position by assessing his strengths, and we were able to work with him and find a suitable role in the organization.”

If someone is struggling in their current role, you may or may not have another place for that person in your organization. But before you cut ties with a mismatched piece, you should always step back, look at the landscape within your company and see if there are other places where a given person might make a better fit.

Cutting good talent loose should only come as a last step. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and if your company gains a reputation as an organization that treats employees as interchangeable pieces, you’ll have a more difficult time attracting good talent and making quality hires in the first place.

“You really are only as good as your employees,” Kaufman says. “You have to look at that and find ways to develop them. As a CEO, if you’re going to grow and you want to have more operations, you have to create a replicable model that can be run by other people besides the CEO. That’s why the best gift you can give to somebody is to believe in them before they believe in themselves.”

You believe in your people by giving them the structure to improve their skills, move up in the organization, and continually learn — both in formal training and on the job. You often learn on the job by making mistakes, which is why you can’t be quick to punish someone who commits an error.

“You have to be extremely generous with praise and really allow people to do their jobs,” Kaufman says. “Don’t micromanage them. Allow mistakes.

“If you can find an incredible talent who believes they were put on this planet to do what they’re doing right now and you can get them to see that they are capable of even more than that — that they can become an amazing leader creating more leaders — that is the whole idea of believing in someone before they believe in themselves. It’s the greatest gift I ever got as a leader.

“And it really is the greatest gift you can give to someone in the business world.”

How to reach: Specialized Education Services Inc., (215) 369-8699 or www.sesi-schools.com

Takeaways

Assess the competencies of your people.

Critique with the goal of improving your people.

Identify and develop new leaders.

The Kaufman file

Michael Kaufman

President and CEO
Specialized Education Services Inc.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned? To create leaders from within. Always make sure you are doing that. When you interview somebody, don’t just interview the person for the position that you’re seeking. Interview people for all they can be.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader? You need strength, compassion, accessibility and accountability. You need to be someone who is well-rounded and understands what it takes to lead an organization. You need to be able to look at the numbers. Don’t run from them, and don’t make excuses. Let everyone know what is going on in the organization, because there shouldn’t be any surprises for anyone. The strongest leaders are transparent. Don’t act differently based on whoever is in the room.

What is your definition of success? If someone thought I was an incredible CEO, that’s nice, but the real question is whether I lived my life with dignity and class, and have I earned the respect of others. Not just that I got respect because I ran an organization, but that I earned it because the people knew I had the best interests of the organization at heart.