Talk of the Town – 2010 will be MY Year

January 9, 2010

j0426527[1]Each year in January, I try to plan my calendar to meet with friends in the first two weeks.  I have a diverse group of friends ranging from entrepreneurs to folks from corporate America, from local community volunteers to national leaders, and from neighbors to old school chums.

By reaching out, reconnecting, asking questions, and listening, I get a really good cross section of what is happening and what is on people’s minds.  It also gives me a pretty good feel for what to expect in the year to come.

It probably comes as no surprise that, when I did this is January of 2009, there were lots of rumblings of rough weather ahead.  People where battening down the hatches and preparing to hold on to investments, jobs, and businesses by sheer will.  Folks that I talked to did not know what to expect – but one thing was pretty consistent… they we not expecting it to be good.

Yet, this year, there is a different feeling in the conversations.  I don’t know  what it is  – the stars in alignment, something in the water, or just the impact of moving into a new decade, but once again a message is emerging from all of these conversations – a common statement and theme that  I am hearing from others…

2010 will be MY year!

The first time I heard it expressed by a friend with such confidence that I felt it too, I thought – ‘Wow, good for you.’  Then I heard it again – this time by a business owner – “This will be OUR year”.  And then again from an entrepreneur, then a scientist, then a developer, then a non profit leader, and so on.  The words were slightly different each time, but the theme kept repeating over and over again.  2010 was going to be the year when they made a break through, grew their business, did something new, made a difference.

So, will 2010 be YOUR year? 

We all have the chance to make 2010 our year.  Here are a few things you might want to put to work for you.

1.  Write down your goals and put them somewhere where you see them every day.  A series of small goals that build on one another are better that one great big one.  That way, as you achieve each small goal or milestone, the sense of accomplishment gives you more incentive and energy to tackle the next one.

2.  Gather Great People Around You.  Whether you call them a team, a posse, a workgroup or just friends, surround yourself  with people who share your values AND your goals. By working together – things happen faster.  The shared experiences of your team can also help you avoid pitfalls and mistakes that might shift you off course.

3.  Focus in on the things that will make the biggest impact.  It is too easy to be distracted by little things that can keep you from doing the important ones.  Take the time to understand how you are most productive and then work with others to delegate or off load non core activities.  Paying someone else to do the time consuming nuisance projects can save BIG money in the long run or free you up for more impactful or productive activities.

4. Use Processes and Systems to Your Advantage.  The best businesses, projects, and ideas are those you can replicate over and over again.  Figure out what works best, get it down on paper and integrate it into HOW you get things done.  By creating repeatable systems or processes, you save time, save money and often by analyzing the system – continue to improve it.

Never forget that “2010 will be MY year”. 

Stay positive and positive things happen.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently. 

Make 2010 your year.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned.

Joan Koerber-Walker

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Promise and Compromise

January 5, 2010

You’ve probably had the  experience where through the diverse objectives and perspectives of the people on your team, what you set out to create and what you got where not exactly the same.   As concessions are made to reach a point of consensus, a completely different animal begins to takes shape.

It has been said that “a camel is horse designed by a committee.”

Interestingly, having researched this much quoted maxim, there is no true consensus on  WHO actually said it first. 

As leaders, be it in our home, in our business, or  in our community, we are often in a position requiring a promise or commitment.  In many cases, to keep that promise or commitment will require the help of others, and often to get that help, you face a compromise.

When you look at the definition of the words as indicated in the links above, I found something interesting. They both come from the same Latin root – promissus which means to send forth and compromissus which means to send forth mutually  or together.

Over the last two years, watching national and world events, I have seen many examples of this, but no better examples than what we have all watched unfold in Washington D.C.

Throughout 2008, we heard a lot of promises from candidates ranging from local offices up to the highest office in the land.  But, then that is to be expected.  We as a people have come to elect people based on what they say they will do as opposed to what they have done or what they can actually do.  Seem confusing? Here is an example…

On January 11, 2009, the New York Times published a list of Candidate Obama’s Campaign Promises.  They made a truly impressive list.  Yet for the most part, the list was a list of objectives that acting alone, no U.S. President could keep.  (To be fair, if you go back to the ‘promises’ made by the other side, the list was equally impressive and if acting alone, equally unsupported.)   For the reality is, in the United States, we have a system of checks and balances between the Executive Branch, Congress, and The Judiciary.  The Legislative branch makes the law. The Executive branch executes the law. The Judicial branch interprets the law. Each branch has an effect on the other and for any campaign promise to be kept, all three must be in agreement.

To reach that agreement, there often must be concessions and compromises before we can move forward together.  It can be challenging to get TWO people to agree on a contentious issue.  Imagine how much harder it becomes when you are looking at creating consensus among one President, 100 Senators, 435 Congressional Representatives, and ultimately if needed 9 Supreme Court Justices.  Add to that truly monumental challenges like access to affordable healthcare, a less than popular war, a financial collapse, a national deficit so large that the numbers can not be conceived by the average person, and some of our largest states on the verge of financial insolvency. 

Looking at it from that perspective, does it come as a surprise that concessions and trade offs are being made to get ANYTHING accomplished? 

Over lunch with a friend last week, we were discussing what it takes to get things done.  Not just in Washington, but in our businesses and in our communities.  Often, no matter what you do, no one is completely happy with the final result.  In life, just as in Washington, there are trade offs and compromises that must often be made to that we can move forward.  In one way or another, progress comes at a price.

The true challenge, as individuals and leaders, is to have a clear understanding, BEFORE you make a promise, of what will be needed to gain consensus and to get all the support you need to make it happen.  Otherwise, instead of ending up with a sleek and agile Horse, you just may end up spending your days with a Camel!

Thanks for stopping by…Stay Tuned.

Joan Koerber-Walker


Drawing a Crowd in the Cabbage Patch

October 27, 2009

I was scanning some articles online this morning when I cam across a fun one at How Stuff Works titled 23 Must-Have Toys from the 1950s and Beyond.  So I decided to check it out.  Of the 23 ‘must haves’, only Strawberry Shortcake never made it into either my or my children’s toy collection.  But it was the Cabbage Patch Kids that brought back the memory of how one innovative toy really drew a crowd.

imageXavier Roberts was a teenager when he launched his Babyland General Hospital during the 1970s in Cleveland, Georgia, allowing children to adopt a “baby.” In 1983, the Coleco toy company started mass-producing these dolls as Cabbage Patch Kids. Each “kid” came with a unique name and a set of adoption papers, and stores couldn’t keep them on the shelves, selling more than three million of the dolls in the first year.

 It was just before the Christmas holidays in 1983, and my fiance Chris worked at Coleco, home of the Cabbage Patch.  EVERYONE was trying to get their hands on the little darlings – even employees.  The company had to even hold a lottery for employees to be able to purchase them.  So after months of lotteries, we had a small collection of six Cabbage Patch Kids ready for adoption. 

I really did not give it too much thought when I lined up the ‘Kids’ on the back seat of my car and left my home in South Windsor, Connecticut on a Saturday afternoon to drive down to see our families in Danbury, Connecticut.  But I got a real lesson on what it is like for an innovation to draw a crowd when I stopped at a McDonald’s along the way to get a Diet Coke.  The young girl at the drive thru window saw into my back seat, and exclaimed!

WOW!  Where did you get all those Cabbage Patch Dolls!

That’s all it took.  Before I had even been given my cup, my car was surrounded by Moms, wallets and checkbooks in hand, asking me what it would take to sell them “Just One.”  I explained that they were gifts and that they were not for sale, but finally the manager had to come out and move the eager Mommies away – before I could put my car in gear and make my escape from the drive thru.  I learned a lesson that day…

When an innovation capture’s the public’s imagination – it draws a crowd.

Over twenty-five years have passed and I have seen many innovative new products come and go.  Some are just a passing fad, but others have real staying power.  As an investor, I look for those companies with inventions or solutions that can make life better in one way or another.  Products or services that capture the imagination and can, with the right resources, literally draw a crowd in their chosen marketplace. 

Some of these companies have been in technology – like when Bernie Vonderschmidt, the first Chairman and CEO  of Xilinx, shared his vision of the next generation in silicon technology,the FGPGA, or when Dr. Michelle Hanna of RiboMed helped me to imagine a day when we could detect and treat diseases like cancer BEFORE it was too late and our loved ones were suffering.  Others have not.  But none of the innovations I have invested in have been toys.  Perhaps because I never got over the experience of being ‘mobbed by Mommies’ at McDonalds.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

 


Valuing a Company

October 18, 2009

From time to time, I get involved in answering a tricky question.  “What is this company worth?”  Sometimes the question comes up when speaking to a business owner or executive who is truly trying to increase the value of their organization.  At other times the question is raised from someone looking for investors or buyers.  And then most importantly – I ask it myself when the buyer or investor might be me.

Years ago, in business school, I had great professors at the W.P. Carey School of Business.  They taught me the science of financial valuation and how to look at the opportunities  and systematic business risks that lie buried behind the balance sheet.  There where times in the learning process when I might have cursed my teachers for being so exacting, but the lessons they taught combined with the insights I gained from my fellow students were worth more than a pot of gold.

Measuring a company’s value falls into 3 categories

What it has – it’s assets

Assets can be real and tangible.  We all know about these: property, plants, and equipment plus firm contracts and money in the bank.  We can see it, touch it, count it up.  Other assets are intangible.  We know that there is some level of value, but measurement is often subtle, involving an estimation of the worth.  This can be a patent, a trademark, or a customer or prospect list that in and of it self has no hard value, but when put to good use can be converted to tangible assets in the future, 

What it lacks or  owes – It’s liabilities

On the other side of the equation are the liabilities.  Some are easy to measure and take the form of debt, contractual obligations, or other factors that reduce the company’s assets.  But there are other more intangible liabilities to factor in like adverse economic conditions, holes in the team, or a lack in organizational bandwidth – you know – too much to do and not enough resources to do it with.

What It promises – Its brand as an organization

And most important of all, I look at what the company promises to its people, its customers, its partners and its investors through its brand as an organization, PLUS  its ABILITY to keep those promises.

We all make promises, and most up us do everything in our power to keep them.  The question I focus on most closely is can the company turn promise into reality with its unique combination of assets and liabilities. 

  • Does it have a clear and simple plan that the team can follow to keep the promises it makes? Are there clearly defined goals, strategies, tactics? Are there clear measurement milestones along the way?
  • Does it have a culture that supports its team in achieving shared objectives.  It’s sad but true.  Objectives and goals that are not shared by the team are rarely achieved.
  • Does it have the resources to give to that team so that they can execute on the plan? And if not – does it have the ability to get them?
  • Does it use its assets wisely?  Is it investing in its people and its product to take and hold a leadership position in its markets  in the future?
  • Does it look at its customers, supply chain, and investors as collaborative partners and treat them accordingly?
  • Is leadership committed to keeping the promises it makes to the team, the partners, the customers, and the investors.
  • Does every member of the team share that commitment?

The Value of the COMPANY

When I am done with the measuring, I add it all up.  What I then have is a valuation of the company in a form that they rarely teach in business school.  A clearer picture of whether the company can keep its organizational promise and create value as well as what it may to make that happen, and what I can do to help along the way.

Because, at the end of the day, the true value of any company is in the promises it makes, and its ability to keep them.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker


Small Business…BIG Impact

September 25, 2009

When you are talking about economic impact, small business is a BIG deal.  For two years I had the opportunity to serve as the CEO of the Arizona Small Business Association and and on the Board of Trustees of the National Small Business Association.  During that time.  I sat and talked with many small business owners, toured their offices and factories, listened to their stories,  and then traveled to the Arizona Capitol and to Washington D.C. to share those stories with Senators and Representatives. 

Retreats at the Edward Lowe Foundation in Cassopolis, Michigan and visits to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City where times to exchange ideas with economic developers from around the country on how to make a difference in our local communities as well as at the national level.

What I learned, I shared in the pages of BizAZ Magazine, on our blog, and with ANY audience that would listen.  To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times, they were a changing.  Here are some clips from one of those talks from October of 2007…

Joan Koerber-Walker on Small Busness and Economic Recovery

Let’s look at the facts from the most recent

SBA Office of Advocacy Report

In the United States, small firms with less that 500 employees:

  • Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms.
  • Employ just over half of all private sector employees.
  • Pay 44 percent of total U.S. private payroll.
  • Have generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years. 
  • Create more than half of the nonfarm private gross domestic
    product (GDP). 
  • Hire 40 percent of high tech workers (such as scientists, engineers, and computer programmers). 
  • Are 52 percent home-based and 2 percent franchises. 
  • Made up 97.3 percent of all identified exporters and produced  30.2 percent of the known export value in FY 2007.
  • Produce 13 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms; these patents are twice as likely as large firm patents to be among the one percent most cited.

Source: SBA office of Advocacy,  U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census and International Trade Admin.; Advocacy-funded research by Kathryn Kobe, 2007  and CHI Research, 2003 ; U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Where will recovery REALLY come from?

Today, economists and business experts are saying that “the recession is over and we are beginning our gradual climb out.”  Assuming that Wall Street and the financial markets don’t implode again, they are probably right.  But if we want to speed up the recovery process, we need  to shift our thinking and economic support more to what can we do DIRECTLY to give small businesses the resources that they need to grow.  That is where the real net job growth will come from.  Until  we get our unemployment problem solved, we don’t get our consumer confidence problem resolved.  If no one is buying – there is no recovery.   It’s that simple.

We need jobs to get the economy growing again and that means we need to supply the resources SMALL Businesses need to create jobs.  Current programs to provide training and loans for ‘bankable’ businesses are being provided at a variety of levels.  But the sad truth is that many high growth potential small businesses are not not bankable by today’s standards.  The economic conditions of the last year have hit their balance sheets too hard. 

The graph below shows where job growth actually came from in the period from 2005 to 2007.  Stage One firms are those with less than 10 employees.  Stage Two is 10- 99 employees, Stage Three is 100 – 499, and Stage Four is BIG Business 500+ employees.  What you are looking at is a national snapshot, but you can look at your state, country or MSA also at YourEconomy.org.

image

It’s time for something new

If we want to jump start the economy and get on the road to real recovery, maybe its time for a new type of economic stimulus.  Instead of investing in programs to train small business on how to grow – lets create new programs to allow them the access to capital they need to actually do it.  The old ways are not working very well – and in the words of the last election – IT’S TIME FOR CHANGE. 

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker


Riding the Entrepreneurial Roller Coaster

September 23, 2009

Diamondback Roller Coaster, Kings Island, Mason OhioHave you ever wondered about our fascination with roller coasters ? People from all over the world have been flocking to ride these engineering  marvels since as far back as the 17th century, although the earliest ‘thrill’ ride did not have rollers or wheels at all but rather flew on tracks of ice. 

Roller coasters, as we know them today, have come a long way from the ‘ice mountains’ in the time of the Russian Czars, but some things still hold true.  They fascinate us, they can make us nauseous, and often have us screaming as we fly up to the peak and rush headlong down into the valley.  Step right up to the roller coaster.  It is guaranteed to provide a rush of adrenaline and a wild ride. (History of the Roller Coaster – Wikipedia)

As I sat working on business plans and reviewing financing packages today, I suddenly struck me how much in common the roller coaster and the entrepreneurial journey really do have in common.

Think about it, entrepreneurs fascinate us, we watch successful ones like they are rock stars, and look away with a gulp at the poor guy who is losing his lunch – or his business – as he staggers away.  Any entrepreneur will tell you,  THAT can happen to anybody.

Like roller coasters, most entrepreneurial ventures labor rung by rung up that first great grade to reach that first big win, opportunity, or investor.   And  then reality hits, and there is so much WORK to do, and you are sliding down, before you begin the next great climb.  It’s a wonder more of us are not throwing up our arms and screaming!  If you stay the entrepreneurial circuit long enough, you are sure to hit its highs and lows. Even the legendary entrepreneurial success stories like Microsoft and Cisco have had their fair share of peaks and valleys along the way.

Like roller coasters, that struggled financially and almost disappeared completely during the Great Depression, entrepreneurs have faced times when economic conditions where almost too much to take.  But then a spark of innovation, or a new idea gets them fired up all over again.

That’s the thing about veteran entrepreneurs, just like veteran roller coaster riders, as soon as the ride is over, they often get right back in line to take the journey again. 

I wonder if a study has ever been done on what percent of entrepreneurs LIKE to ride roller coasters.   Or, if serial entrepreneurs are especially addicted?  It might make for interesting reading.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker


Asking for Help…

September 1, 2009

Often one of the most important lessons we learn as business owners, innovators, and leaders is how and when to ask for help.

In 2001, I was VP of Global Supplier Contracts at Avnet, Inc. a Fortune 500 global distributor of electronic components and computers.

I had an idea for a new kind of business and took the idea to Avnet Chairman and CEO, Roy Vallee. We discussed the potential benefits to the company and what I wanted to do to make it happen. He told me to “…take the idea and run with it. Take it as far as you can and come back to me if you need help.” There are 3 components to this advice:

1) develop new ideas;

2) plan and take action;

3) ask for help.

At the time, for me, #3 was the MOST important. Up to that point, I had done everything for the project on my own. To make it viable, I had to find the people and resources that I lacked and get them to be part of the solution. A year later, Avnet decided that the time was not right to proceed with the project. But I was not ready to give it up.

So, I  took Roy’s advice and asked for help.

First I asked Avnet’s permission to take some of the ideas I had developed and create my own business. They said yes.

Then I looked for and found the best people and resources to partner with to build that business. They said yes too.

The result, CorePurpose, Inc. has been supporting other businesses in their journey along the growth path since July of 2002. Our whole business is built around having the right resources and knowing how to get help when you need it.”

Applying the Lesson

For many of us, asking for help is not an easy thing to do.  Many still believe that asking for help makes you appear weak or out of control.  Contrary to this belief, asking for help at the right time and for the right reasons is NOT a sign of weakness, but rather can be a sign of confidence, strength and savvy resource management.

Few organizations or projects succeed without some form of assistance today – be it leadership, financial, supply chain, staffing, technology resources, or a myriad of other needs.  Interestingly, the strategic process we go through in developing our program or project can also be a great process to follow when determining how to go about finding the right help at the right time.

Develop new ideas

Look at each step of your current strategic plan or program map.  Identify the areas where the process or program can be strengthened through outside support or other partnerships.  Look at each step of your process not only in light of how a strategic partner can benefit you but also how, by working together, the partner will benefit too.

Plan and Take Action

Evaluate the things that you are doing that might be done as well as you are currently doing them or can be done even better by others.

Start by identifying outside resources for non core activities and then evaluate how you can better utilize your existing resources by redeploying them into core areas of strength or differentiation within your organization.  Strategic partnerships like these are a resource investment for you and the partner.  Be realistic in calculating the ROI for both parties.

Put together presentations you can make to potential strategic partners with a focus on how each of you will benefit from the partnership.  Then build your target partner list and start scheduling the presentations.

Asking for help.

Following this process, asking for help moves from sending out an ‘S.O.S.’ or distress call to proactively building relationships where both parties benefit.  Now, you are  not just asking someone to help you with a business challenge, you are offering to help them overcome one of theirs.

So, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Look at your business on a regular basis to determine how by asking for help, you can make your business stronger, more cost efficient, or more financially sound.  You’ll never know, until you ask!

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker