Let’s celebrate the good news, for a change

Sometimes it’s nice to focus on the good, rather than the bad. Yes, bad news sells, but it’s also only a part of what’s going on. This month we’re focused squarely on the positive side of things by celebrating the area’s top executives with the Pittsburgh Smart 50 Awards.

Positive sparks

As I read through all of the nomination essays and heard directly from some of the business leaders at the Smart 50 judging day, it was exciting to learn about the great things going on in the business community.

Many of the honorees have faced down significant market challenges or come up with new ways to approach an old problem. In fact, after some presentations, everyone in the room looked at each other and gave the ultimate compliment: “Why didn’t I think of that?”

We hope as you learn a little about these organizations and leaders — some who you already know and some that you’re hearing about for the first time — their passion will spark a little of your own passion as you lead your own organizations.

Green identity

Another positive thing in Pittsburgh is its reliance on green technology. Often, the topic for discussion is not that you’re going to build green; it’s how green do you want to go? In other words, what Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design level will you end up at?

Some of our Smart 50 honorees are tied into the green movement, but in addition for this month’s Uniquely Pittsburgh, I focused on The Tower at PNC Plaza. It’s been billed as the greenest office building in the world — at least at the moment.

If you’re not familiar with all of the green technology incorporated into the building, it’s time to check it out. A building that “breathes” is one of the coolest things I’ve heard about in awhile. (Although I would be curious to hear what working in a building with so much fresh air does for your allergies!)

Storytelling helps drive home your business vision

When I spoke with Samuel Conway this month about the Anthrocon event for Uniquely Pittsburgh, I was drawn in by his storytelling skills as he described how their event came to be hosted in Pittsburgh. His interview was one of the most memorable I’ve had in awhile.

But what is even more impressive is when you visit Anthrocon’s website, you can find that Conway tells that exact story in a video that is several years old. He used a lot of the same phrases in both instances.

This is probably a story that Conway has told again and again, but it didn’t feel rehearsed when I heard it.

Storytelling in business

This got me thinking about how often business leaders have to share their mission and vision for the company again and again to their stakeholders — board members, employees, clients, etc. In fact, one of my CEO columnists recently wrote that when you’re tired of telling your message, the audience is just beginning to hear it.

If a CEO had just a portion of Conway’s storytelling skills, it would make sharing that vision so much easier.

When you can convey your message consistently and memorably, that’s when you start creating believers, and getting employee and client buy-in. Those employees and customers in turn will help spread the message even further.

Mastering a good story

So what makes a great storyteller? I turned to Google for some inspiration, and came across an interesting Forbes article by Nick Morgan on a 2008 TED Talk from storyteller and children’s author Carmen Agra Deedy.

Here are a few of his tips:

  • Be concise and pick your details; focus on the turning points.
  • There must be conflict. A personal story must show you in an honest and probably less than flattering light.
  • A great story is not an anecdote; instead it’s a tale of struggle leading to change. (Doesn’t that sound a lot like what you do in your business every day?)

To learn more, watch Deedy’s TED Talk at www.ted.com/speakers/carmen_agra_deedy.

Do your homework, before the deal goes through

This month Smart Business is hosting its inaugural ASPIRE Conference in Cleveland — bringing together entrepreneurs, business owners, deal-makers, investors and advisers for a daylong conference to discuss issues in the M&A and business investment world.

Dealmaking is a huge part of business, and that’s why I wanted to put some focus on it here in Smart Business Pittsburgh.

Several of our columnists shared their thoughts on the topic, and I specifically sought out companies with M&A experience for the feature and cover story. (For a little lighter reading, be sure to check out the Uniquely Pittsburgh on PNC Park.)

Interview both ways

John Degory of Knowledge Center Enterprises LLC didn’t have much experience with private equity but now he’s a huge fan.

He discovered that having the right ownership structure, and investors, is key for growth. You can’t grow if you don’t have the right resources to invest in your organization.

One interesting thing I learned from Degory was that he wanted a true private equity partner. He asked just as many questions of his potential private equity investors, as they asked of him.

He also read between the lines, based on the types of questions he got, to infer what were the private equity firm’s priorities.

Get into the nuts and bolts

John Stanik, on the other hand, has acquired a handful of companies in his time first as CEO of Calgon Carbon and now at Ampco-Pittsburgh Corp.

Like Degory, he advocates doing your homework by getting details upfront. He says this helps you eliminate the potential surprises.

Stanik uses the interview process and meetings with the management group to gauge their leadership style.

“You can get a good feel by that interview process or that meeting process to understand the culture, to understand what the company believes, its position in the market, what its strengths are, what its doing, what its strategy is,” he says.

When you’re got your short list of candidates, you can go even further in the due diligence process.

“Now you can really get into the nuts and bolts and the details of the company and get a very good feel for how easy or how hard or how short or how long it will take to move these two entities together into one.”

Women’s initiatives take center stage

This month’s magazine has a focus on women in business and women’s initiatives. The stories are about female executives, the columnists put thought into issues that affect women and the Uniquely Pittsburgh is about one of Pittsburgh’s most famous women, Rachel Carson.

I had fun putting it all together and I hope you enjoy this issue.

Finding a balance

When I spoke to Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, I asked her if she faces unique challenges as a female CEO. She laughed and said that it’s hard for her to judge since she’s never been a male CEO.

But Gabriela Isturiz, co-founder, president and CEO, of Bellefield, had a lot more to say on the subject.

Women in business are something that Isturiz is very passionate about, especially as she works in the male-dominated tech industry.

Although Isturiz says women have come a long way, she still finds that they have to make more compromises than their male counterparts.

“There’s an understanding that for women to be able to succeed and go high on the ladder, you have to be superwoman — and it should not be that way,” she says.

One of the most challenging my components is the social environment.

When you’re running a company, you’ve got to be out at the social activities like trade shows, cocktail parties and events in order to network with other CEOs, Isturiz says. Those are the types of things that you cannot delegate.

That means a balance, which can be harder for women to find than men, as they juggle family obligations and their children’s events, too.

“Understand that you cannot do it all, because something’s got to give,” she says. “You cannot do it all; you cannot be everywhere, every time. So, prioritize — what will be the best cost benefit? Go for that, and let the others go.”

A package deal

If you feel strongly about women’s issues, like Isturiz, you might try something else that she does.

She mentors startups through the University of Pittsburgh, and she says that one of her requirements is that she wants to mentor women and teams with women representation.

If you feel strongly about a certain issue — women in business or otherwise — why not make that part of your requirement as you pass along your expertise?