Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Revisit with HBE

Meeting with FSK (Fred Strange Kummer) on Saturday 1/22/2005

In 1998 I walked into HBE with no preconceptions. It was only later that I heard the stories of this successful privately-held firm and its founder Fred S. Kummer. As things turned out – I was offered a job in support of the Design-Build marketing to the Healthcare and Financial markets.  I managed to prosper as head of marketing eventually adding the hotels as part of my marketing responsibilities. (Adam’s Mark Hotels and Resorts was a chain of 24 in its system.) By Spring of 2001 I was dismissed by Fred Kummer personally. “We’re gonna do things differently around here.”  Still, considering the mitigating circumstances of the company during that time – a pretty fair run.

Hospital Design and Consutruction sales were lagging and the Hotels found themselves in the spotlight over charges of a pattern racial discrimination – charges by the Attorney General of the United States, Janet Reno. Only Financial Facilities seemed to be growing steadily.

In 2001, just about 60 days after leaving HBE, I joined Clayco. Another tour of about three years and I was dismissed from my position as Director of Corporate Communcations by Clayco CEO Bob Clark. Much of the job at Clayco was remarkably similar to the position I held at HBE (without the hotels). The programs and position I developed at Clayco were running smoothly enough by 2004, that Bob Clark felt he could relieve me of my duties in favor of a promotion for a loyal employee of ten years. (This came as a bit of a surprise, as my replacement had no marketing, advertising or public relations training. In fact no college degree – but Bob decided to give her a shot – and me the boot.)

Interestingly enough, my old position at HBE became open. I put off contacting HBE for a while until I concluded that I was being too prideful but staying away from my past employer. When the job was officially advertised, I threw my hat in the ring. I completed the on-line application. I contacted the head of personnel (Jim O’Daniel) and had conversations with several people I still knew inside the organization. I also called the head of Healthcare Facilities (Steve Dailey) and even he ewncouraged me to apply. I know my application reached Fred Kummer. I know he asked to see my “file” from my previous tour of duty.

On a chilly St. Louis Saturday Morning (1/22/05) I decided to drop in on Fred. He’s always in on Saturdays. Sure enough, 9:30am when I arrived at his office on the 6th Floor, Fred was hunched over a set of architectural plans.

W: Good Morning Fred. (I said loud enough to cause him to turn around.)
FSK: Hello
W: (Steping into his office) I saw your car outside and thought I’d drop in and see you.
FSK: What can I do for you? As if I don’t already know.

Fred was in good spirits and was happy to be caught at a quiet moment in his office on the weekend. He invited me to sit down.

W: Fred, I want you to know that I had nothing to do with the recent defections from your Financial Facilities group. (Last Saturday’s St. Louis Post Dispatch had an article about six employees joining Clayco from HBE. I had heard rumors that this might be in the works. In fact, several months ago Fred and Bob Clark spent two days together in Fred's office with Bob Clark broaching the topic of mearging “our two companies”)
FSK: Well, you know Paul (Barrath) should have made decisions that were good for the company instead of making decisions that he perceived to be good for Paul. Lombardo’s best days are behind him. (Tom Lombardo) and Clarence Steele wanted to work out of Arizona. The woman (Mary Smolar – Fred did not name her by name) was pretty good I understand and we tried to keep her. The young man…(Scott Florini). At this point Fred did not finish his sentence. (A common part of Fred’s speech patterns is to leave a thought unfinished as he switches gears.)
FSK: You, as I recall are a lazy person. There are people who feel the closer they get to the top the less they have to work. I’d put you in that group.
W: (How do you respond to such an insult? Especially as he delivers the message with such a matter of fact tone. I simply nodded to confirm that I was listening.)
FSK: Where are you now?
W: I was with Clayco for the past three years Fred. But I’m no longer with them.
FSK: I wasn’t aware of that. (This clearly peaked his interest and set off some discussion of his meetings with Bob Clark). You know Clark came in here and we spent a couple of days together. He said that he’d like to set up his office right here and shadow me. That got me thinking.

Having had the benefit of working here before, I was able to understand 90% of what Fred was talking about when he rattled off some names of those he’s brought closer to him in proximity of offices. He mentioned Matt Nail (“…got himself into trouble and was afraid to ask for help” and “…I tried to get him back into construction”), Gene Kemp (“He and Paul were similar in doing things….I fired Gene and brought in….who is doing a fine job.)

FSK: People think I’m mean.
W: I’ve heard that Fred.
FSK: (with a wry smile) I’m just misunderstood. (pause) You know, we’re looking for someon like Nancy Kornwell (I recall hearing Fred mention this name before – She’s a marketing person that well pre-dates me but one that left a lasting impression with Fred I guess). Someone strong. A real pro. I’m not sure you…(He doesn’t finish the sentence – but I take it to mean he’s not convinced I’m the guy to put in that spot again.)
W: Fred I brought some samples of things I did a Clayco. You can have them.
FSK: (Fred thumbed through some of the pages of profiles, press coverage and other elements I had bound into a GBC binder along with a Clayco overview/capabilities piece I developed – I refer to as the “square book. He asked a few questions about projects shown in the book.) Very Nice.
FSK: Who did you work for?
W: Bob Clark primarily.
FSK: Is he a hard worker?
W: I wouln’t say so Fred. Not like you anyway. Bob does a lot of local networking. He’s not in the office all the time. He goes out to lunch. In many ways you and Bob Clark are very similar but this is not one of them. (Fred probed a bit about there similarities and differences. He revealed that Sal Ruffino was going to join HBE as an Operations VP. I assured him that Sal was a good guy and tried to explain why Bob made changes to the Concrete Group in spite of the fact that he had bragged about the money that group made for Clayco.)

Nearly an hour passed. I got up and said goodbye. Friendly meeting. Fred insisted he was going to review 500 resumes for the Marketing job. I indicated that I understood if he felt that I wasn’t the right guy.

Finally, I stopped into Jim O’Daniel’s office to let him know that I had met with Fred. Jim was grateful that I informed him. Poor Jim is nearly always in on Saturday because that is the time Fred is most likely to interview potential employees.

As it happens, FSK offered me the job. It didn’t last. 18 months later I was Global Communications Director at Thermadyne. Of course I have to thank HBE for the experience as I was able to do work (projects mostly) for Crossland Construction, ARCO and Frontenac Engineering between 2010-2012. That HBE position has opened up twice since 2010 - I know because someone always brings it to my attention.      

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sellin' the Result.

Tom Ruwich is founder of MarketVolt, a powerful email marketing software firm offering guidance to help you turn prospects into customers and customers into clients with maximum lifetime value. MarketVolt's web-based software is designed to make it as easy as possible for you to put the right information in front of the right people at the right time. Tom is a writer and former journalist with a degree in History from Yale. He is an entrepreneur. He’s a smart dude and a smart businessman too.

I have seen Tom make presentations to audiences on several occasions. Typically he focuses on the importance of CONTENT. His persuasive argument favors a disciplined approach to understanding your target and managing a message strategy. He advocates building a matrix FAQs or frequently asked questions,“should be asked” questions, objections, competitive alternatives etc. and filling it out with compelling arguments for your brand. I agree fully with such a sound methodology. I am a marketing communications specialist. Of course I concur.

I sell the same thing, on the surface at least. You see Tom wants you to sign up for MarketVolt. His website says: “MarketVolt - Because we help you market more productively and comfortably. Better software empowers you to work an get the job done with ease — with maximum efficiency and minimum hassle. Extraordinary support gives you confidence. We have your back and we will help you succeed,” and goes on to say “Flexible plans gives you freedom and options. You can do it all yourself or engage us to help. Your choice. Fair and flexible pricing. Pricing plans start under $1 per day….

Now that is decidedly different sell at the end, isn’t it? Once you’ve nodded your head yes to every step of the way, the close is about signing up for an annuity payment each month. It’s exactly like the argument for a health club membership. You sell the fitness, health and improved quality of life. You don’t see the sweat and agony of daily workouts. You are willing to pay for an easy, comfortable success. You have a vision of a healthier company or a fitter you. And just like that state-of-the-art gym/health club facility, MarketVolt does you no good if you don’t use it.

So what I realize is this. I’m selling the same thing (the result) but I can’t make you do the work. Unlike MarketVolt I don’t get paid for your lack of performance. I have no software, gym or unused tools to point to if you just don’t want to do at least some of the work. Does that seem unfair to you?

P.S. Plans starting at $1 a day ($365 annually). If you are not completely satisfied - blame yourself, renew, upgrade, wish harder or do some work on the CONTENT.    

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cut to the Chase

Thermadyne, (now known as Victor Technologies) launched the Thermal Dynamics True Series plasma cutting system line with a significant marketing program that helped the company reverse a declining share trend. As the global communications director for the company at the time, I feel compelled to say the company owes a debt of thanks to Geile Leon Marketing Communications, Sandbox Creative and Brighton Communications' PR Group. Here's the story as reported by the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

Thermadyne's new tool takes cutting to a deeper level Christopher Boyce
Friday, Nov. 16, 2007

When Thermadyne Holdings Corp. opened its booth Sunday in Chicago at the largest welding trade show in North America, officials hoped to start a buzz with the company's new metal-cutting system. While a buzz-worthy product at a welding trade show may not sound exciting to many, the Chesterfield-based company is plenty excited about the torch-like Cutmaster True Series plasma cutter from its Thermal Dynamics division — a new product expected to bring $5 million to $6 million in sales to the company in 2008. The tool, used to cut metals in construction and other industries, offers advances in portability and ease of use not previously available. Yet even with its new features, perhaps the most creative aspect about the tool may be Thermadyne's marketing. The company is going against the industry practice of emphasizing the tool's maximum work capacity, by instead touting its recommended capacity. "You can buy a machine that's able to cut a certain thickness, but you wouldn't recommend doing that all day," said Wes Morgan, director of global communications for Thermadyne. "I don't want to suggest the industry is dishonest, but there's a lot of different users out there."Users who regularly test the limits of a cutter's stated capacity are sometimes disappointed," Morgan said. The Cutmaster will have a series of models, each designed to cut metals of different thicknesses. The truth-in-advertising slant is the inspiration for the tool's "True Series" moniker. Essentially, a model designed to cut through a three-quarter-inch thick piece of steel will do that regularly, and advertising will concentrate on that figure. However, the model will have the ability to cut up to 1 1/2 inches on a less-frequent basis.

The cutters are often used in various construction applications, for instance, to put bolt holes in steel beams and bevel pipes. They also are used in auto body shops and by hobbyists. Last year, an earlier model of Thermadyne's plasma cutters was used by emergency services personnel to cut open a soda vending machine when a 12-year-old got his hand stuck in it. Cutting products comprise about 15 percent of Thermadyne's $451 million in total sales for 2006. That percentage should grow if the product achieves its expected popularity, said Kent Swart, market manager for Thermal Dynamics, which has its engineering and manufacturing locations in West Lebanon, N.H.. The new plasma cutter — which looks something like an industrial strength pressure washer — is equipped with an LED panel to notify users of the proper conditions for use, such as having necessary air supply or having the proper connections for the torch, Swart said. Users will be able to self-diagnose and, in some cases, fix problems that might otherwise interrupt their work. The manufacturer also has shed the weight of five models of the tool, with most dropping to around 50 pounds from more than 80 pounds for some models. Swart said that weight reduction allows for portability that could make the cutter a hit for Thermadyne.

"I don't know if it's an iPhone, but it's at least a (Motorola) Razr," said Swart, a former mechanical engineer, making a comparison to the well-known cellular products. "The technology isn't changed. … But when I was purchasing equipment, it was always about ease of use and keeping it running."

cboyce@post-dispatch.com | 314-340-8345

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It just isn't fair

A college professor teaching Business Ethics began his lecture one night by writing on the board  - LIFE ISN’T FAIR. He got our attention. “Poverty, illness, natural disasters are not fair, yet these things happen. Your girlfriend or boyfriend dumps you without any reason. Your prospective employer hires his son-in-law instead of you. These things happen. It’s not fair. Class, always remember, that LIFE ISN’T FAIR.” That professor made a strong point. I will never forget that class. I will never forget that lecture in particular.

A Little League baseball game is being officiated and coached on a Spring afternoon. The home fans are screaming at officials at a close call. The coach tries to be fair by giving everyone on the team some playing time. If you have been to a kids’ Little League baseball game recently, you know the crowd of parents and friends can be pretty tough coaches. They want their kids to achieve and have a chance to succeed. They demand fairness!        

Baltusrol Golf Club in northern New Jersey is synonymous with championship golf. It has a rich heritage that dates back to 1895. It is considered one of the country's premier private golf clubs. Preeminent golf course architect Robert Trent Jones was invited to make some changes to the course in the early 1950’s. Considering #4 at Baltrusal, Jones lengthened it by nearly 70 yards, gave it a longer carry (over a pond), re-shaped of the bunkers and added the distinctive rock wall. The result is a stunning par-3 that stands out as one of the top ranked holes in the world of golf. When the hole was opened for play, Jones was criticized by members for making the hole too difficult.  "Let's go play the hole and see if there is anything that needs to be done," Jones suggested as he led the principal critic along with head pro Johnny Farrell and C.P. Burgess, General Chairman of the 1954 Open Championship, to the fourth tee.  They all struck shots. Jones struck his and sank it for a hole-in-one!  "Gentlemen, I think the hole is eminently fair," the architect is reported to have said.

Life isn’t fair! Yet, you should try to enjoy life and all the good things in it. Take the bad with the good. Maybe it won’t seem fair all of the time. Do your best to have a positive outlook. Look for the beauty in things. Good luck and good fortune happen too.  It’s a joy to watch a little league game regardless of who scores the most runs. It’s a marvel to see or get a hole in one!  Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Maybe today will be your lucky day. I hope so.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Talkin' 'bout my Generation

Anna Liotta, author of Unlocking GENERATIONAL CODES, explains the dramatic differences we see in how we approach our professional lives. Managers would do well to study the fundamental differences in orientation workers bring to the workplace. Traditionalist, Baby Boomer, Gen Xer or Millenial; a key to effective leadership in the workplace is understanding one another’s views to obtain a mutual understanding. Anna says, “for most of history, generations have been separated in the workplace due to the hierarchical system inherited from the military leadership training and experiences of the G.I./Veteran generation,” and as a result work peers entering the workforce were predominantly close in age and generational perspectives.” In a recent blog she points out some differences present in the workplace today:

Traditionalists believed in the promises of big institutions and organizations. The golden horizon was that one day you would have the seniority, and then it would be your turn to be the boss, call the shots, lead the troops. You gave your best, and waited with the expectation that eventually, the best would be returned to you.

Baby Boomers flooded the workforce with high hopes for the world and even higher expectations of changing the way work was done. Their secure childhood during the rise of productivity and growth in the high social mood behind them led young Boomers to enter the workforce ready to challenge authority.  

Gen Xers with the boom of the 1970s ending with the bust of the ’80s recession watched their parents scrape and scrap to climb the corporate ladder while hating their bosses, leaders, and jobs, basing their self-worth on the awards and recognition delivered by those same people and institutions. .

Millennials respect authority, but they do not fear it. They have formative years filled with fans, friends, coaches, cheerleaders, and BFFs (Best Friend Forever). Millennials have a very casual relationship with elders and authority figures.

So get ready for the next Generation entering the world of work. Generation Z or Generation I or Internet Generation or the Pluralist Generation, Generation AO (always on), Generation Text -  Digital Natives born after 1989, they bring another completely different frame of reference to the workforce.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Managing the Team

Marketing and communications are often undervalued. The activity can boost sales, enhance value and dramatically improve an organizations performance. Yet, so often, much activity falls on a small cadre of soldiers motivated more by the art than the commerce of their daily tasks. Perhaps, this is as it should be. Consider the business of making a movie. Wouldn’t it be boring if actors and directors thought of nothing else but box-office sales? You need actors and directors who are passionate about telling a story and telling it well. Managing marketing is like that.  It takes finesse. It also requires discipline and guidance to contain and focus energy on priorities.

At the start of each day there needs to be a sense of purpose. At the end of each day a feeling of accomplishment (and being a part of a larger mission). Look at any winning team. They pay attention to the details. In baseball it might be base hits. In football it might be first downs. The players on the field don’t have the luxury of thinking about the bigger picture because the bigger picture is comprised of execution.

Movies, sports or business – it’s about a lot of individuals playing important roles in the ultimate success of the enterprise. Ultimately, it’s those people in the skilled positions that make the difference. Ironically, it can often be extraordinary efforts by those who might otherwise seem to be only average that so often surprise us with outstanding performances.

The difference might be leadership. It might be chemistry. It might be devine intervention. Whatever it is, it looks like teamwork.