Thursday, December 29, 2011


When I started my career, I worked for a very successful entrepreneur who always enjoyed the social side of the business. He would throw an office party to share success with the group and show his feelings of appreciation for his employees. One thing he said to me, though, struck me as a little off through my entire career. "Don't ever get too close to your employees," he warned me. "If you do,  it becomes harder to pull away if you have to." I presume he meant, it becomes harder to fire someone. Whatever his reason, that was one thing he and I didn't agree on. I believe, that in order to retain good people, you have to go beyond the paycheck.
A fairly recent survey on The Plain Dealer website asked respondents, What's the most important factor in your job satisfaction? Naturally, most (23.97%) said, "Pay that's fair for the work I do".  Well, sure... or as my kids will say, "well, duh"... the paycheck is what we all work for.

But, a close runner-up among respondents (20.79%)was "Knowing that I am appreciated by the people I work for."

So, my gut instinct was right, all along. Recognizing a good job and rewarding an employee with a that's the spirit congratulatory phone call, a stop by an employee's office for a personal chat, a one-on-one lunch, or, maybe, a surprise gift of a weekend getaway... goes a long way in retaining good people.  On a more personal level, if one among us is celebrating a special family anniversary, birthday, or a graduation, I like the idea of stopping by or calling to offer my personal congratulations.

We've all been through difficult times during the past few years. I've had to make some tough decisions that forced Shamrock to run hard and lean. But it helped us to remain healthy as an organization. These decisions affected my people; some more than others. But, these decisions also made us stronger as the Shamrock family, so that we're positioned to enjoy the days ahead.

Everyone of us, from clients to vendors to employees may, at some time, have problems at work or outside the workplace. Those who know me, know that my door is always open for a confidential discussion. I may not always have the right answer or solution for the problem, but I'll do everything I can to offer each of you honest advice and counsel.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Last night I watched a TV show with a Christmas theme. (Not unusual for this time of year.) One of the people on the show said something that was memorable. (Usually unusual for TV.) He said, as adults, we're always trying to capture the childhood feeling of our first Christmas, which is why we work so hard to make Christmas special.

Good memories are like that. Over the years they take on a special glow and we remember specific events with nostalgia. For me, it's Christmas time. I remember so many wonderful childhood Christmas events.

I remember going  into the forest each year with my parents to cut down and bring home the perfect tree. It had to appear perfect to every one of us!

I remember sneaking downstairs to see the tree, heavy with ornaments collected over the years. And the presents. It seemed like there were mountains of presents under a tree that sparkled with mounds of tinsel. Those special memories of Christmas excitement have never left me.

We still have a live tree at home, and it still overflows with Christmas gifts for the family, kids and grandkids. And every strand of good old-fashioned tinsel must be perfectly placed on the tree.

What's changed since my childhood is that my family has grown much larger. It now includes everyone at Shamrock. We make a big deal about the holidays at Shamrock's Westlake headquarters. The lobby is decorated with a huge tree and there are loads of ornaments in every corner. Each office door is decorated with a holiday wreath. And we celebrate with traditions that include the formal Shamrock Christmas dinner party with spouses and significant others, when our Westlake site turns into the country club Christmas party scene from a 1950s movie.

More important, we have a tradition of giving back to the community during the holidays. The entire Shamrock family has a Giving Tree designated to help several needy families in the community. Each person picks a name and buys a specific request for that person. We donate goods to the Cleveland Foodbank. We also help out other local charities by donating time or money.

The holidays continue to be special as we get older, as the glow of past Christmases becomes burnished in our minds.  We begin to nurture those feelings as we realize how precious time is, how important it is to be there for family, how necessary it is to help lonely individuals feel wanted, and why it's comforting to be part of a family that faces everyday challenges together. I wish you a holiday as happy as your first memories of a joyous Christmas, a festive Chanukah, or a happy Kwanza -- and above all, a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I'm going to go out a limb here and state, without hesitation, that 2012 will be the Year of Being Relevant in business.  Not being relevant will mean failure.

Example: The Post Office. It's really good at what it does, we just don’t need it.  No more than we need a good horse shoe, or a small offset printing press. The Post Office is going headlong into irrelevancy, through no fault of its own.

Why? Because its mandate (approved by Congress) did not include services such as record retention (medical, income, taxation), automated bill payment, social security check administration, and expansion into new markets, which would require a change in charter. Since the charter for these services was not approved by Congress, the Post Office remains in the 20th Century. Not good.

Lucky for us, most private enterprises in the U.S. are not mandated by Congress. That's not to say some businesses aren't headed into irrelevancy because they're just unable or unwilling to keep up with the forces of change that have been the hallmark of the 21st Century.

In 2012, businesses unwilling to change will be just as, or even more, irrelevant than our present postal system.

If Shamrock had continued to run its course as a forms management and print distribution company we'd probably be where the old-school print industry is today. According to an InfoTrends report printed less than a year ago in American Printer, "...the internet, a proliferation of mobile communication technologies as well as social networking, were cited as effective causes for the decline of commercial printers."  We saw the trend years ago, and knew we had to be more than what we started as, in order to be relevant to our customers.

The article in American Printer also said, "These technology applications and new media alternatives pose a threat to print, particularly regarding marketing communications, statements, bills, invoices, and other transactional documents." We saw the trend, and responded by providing our customers with new technologies such as online bill pay, digitized and on-demand printing, data and inventory management, and e-commerce solutions to help our customers, so they could help their customers.

Missing a market shift is what causes most business failures.  Businesses don’t fail because they're inattentive to customers or because of poor execution.  They fail because they either don’t recognize market shifts, or fail to take advantage of them.  They fail because they don't provide what customers need or value, and often spend too much time and money trying to optimize something their customers increasingly don’t care about.  Survival is all about being relevant.      

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I started at Shamrock as one of the team. (And while I still like to think of myself as a team member, the reality is I am here to lead) As a leader, part of my job is to create. A vision. A portrait of the future.

As the leader / artist, my job is to paint a picture that is simple for everyone to grasp. That means I must have a consistent message, so that when other people in the company repeat the message I've crafted,  it conjures up the same picture, the same vision for everyone else. (This is not as easy as it sounds!)

For example, we started out as a forms management company and print distributor. As the world became more digital, our traditional business model also needed to be transformed, or we would become dinosaurs stuck in the murky swamp of the past. So I and my senior management team made a digital transformation that includes providing customers with 21st century marketing concepts like web, mobile phone, and print on demand marketing.

Was this new direction a walk in the park? Heck no! It was scary to transform what was comfortable. But then there's that unequivocal tipping point, when you clearly know it's now or never (and "never" was never an option). And at that point a leader becomes creative and paints a picture that everyone can buy into. Even if I was a bit scared, I knew I had to appear confident and clear in my goals for a new Shamrock. I knew it was time to unveil a new vision that was clear and easy for everyone to see, regardless of where they stood to view the picture.

How does a leader do this? First, she or he needs to be absolutely genuine. The artist has to have a clear picture of his beliefs and values. In other words, I knew I would have to lead with well-planned actions and words to gain the confidence of my troops.

Second, the  leader / artist has to stick with the most important themes that shape the vision. I picked the three most important themes that helped Shamrock grow in the first place: the best quality, a great product and excellent customer service. These themes would never change, regardless of how important advanced technology becomes for our business model. They were cast in bronze and polished until they were smooth and free of the slightest blemish.

I believe the one true hallmark of good leaders is that they can paint a picture quickly. They know what's important. They communicate their vision really well. And they're not arrogant, because they've seen the rough spots and they've been diligent about polishing them until they were gone.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Yes, really. I honestly believe that each of us has the ability to be an entrepreneur. After all, an entrepreneur makes the decisions that drive a business. And who doesn't enjoy being in the driver's seat?

Actually, many of Shamrock's best and brightest thrive on being entrepreneurs. It's our corporate culture; it's in our DNA. Our way of life is based on the entrepreneurial drive to succeed for the growth of the company, but even more so, for the growth of every one of us who works at Shamrock.

Entrepreneurial individualism makes our work experience that much better, but it makes the experience for our customers outstanding. Because there's no one like an entrepreneur to provide the best possible experience for his or her customer, giving more than 100 percent -- which, in turn, actively enhances the bottom line.

I learned all about being an entrepreneur as a child, from my parents and grandparents. If I wasn't happy with the task my elders handed out, they encouraged me to come up with a job better suited to my skills. To prove my worth, I showed them how well I could perform the task I thought was best for me. And I was given praise and an allowance for my effort!

Lynn Blodgett, the president and CEO of ACS, an IT services subsidiary of Xerox is also a firm believer in making everyone at his company an entrepreneur. According to Blodgett, "...a really important management principle is that if you get the incentives aligned, people will motivate themselves far better than you'll ever motivate them.

"It's not only financial. It's being able to feel like they have a level of control over their destiny, that they are valued in what they do, that they're being successful, that they're contributing... (and) I think the more direct the accountability, the greater the performance."

Like Blodgett, I believe that we drive our company's success down to the people who are actually doing the work, and if a company gives its people the tools and the power to succeed, they will be accountable -- for themselves, for company profits, revenue and customer satisfaction.

One of my goals at Shamrock is to have everyone who wants to work like a sole proprietor do so, because it's  this power each of us have over our own destiny that will guarantee success for the company -- and for ourselves. Really.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Since I was a kid, Thanksgiving has always meant the congregation of family. More than any other holiday, the values and traditions of Thanksgiving have had a tremendous impact on my life.

I remember how the entire family would always gather around my grandparents' table. My grandparents owned a dairy farm with plenty of work to be done. But, when Thanksgiving came around, the chores were briefly forgotten and grandma began the loving task of preparing the holiday table. Of course, grandpa chipped in and helped as much as gram would allow. The most important thing, was that my grandparents took ownership of Thanksgiving.

My grandparents lived a long fulfilling life, and when they could no longer prepare the Thanksgiving table, my wife and I took ownership of that loving task. We always enjoy doing it; after all, traditions need a leader to survive.

Part of our family tradition is to remember the "giving" part of Thanksgiving -- or any generous act -- is a gesture from the heart, with no thoughts of "how will our guests give back what we've put forth, or will I be remembered for my generosity to the local Foodbank?" Actually, everyone in our family has a role to play in the Thanksgiving celebration; each person brings their traditional dish to the holiday table.

The people of Shamrock are also my family. Here, too, everyone has a role. And here, too, I take the initiative, but I choose to ask everyone to share in the preparation of making Shamrock among the best places to work. And I'm blessed to have this wonderful, extended family in my life. They are a significant part of my success.

Like my personal family, my Shamrock family shares the traditions we've established through the years. For example, we have a saying here: "If you're not proud of it, don't ship it." We often ship boxes based on an equal number of items per box. A wise woman in shipping discovered one box among many was short several printed pieces, and one box was over the same number. I told her it was okay to ship, since we weren't shortchanging the customer. "No," she said. "I can't ship it, because shipping is my responsibility, and we promise to ship the same exact number per box. I can't say I would be proud to ship this job, since the numbers per box are wrong.

I guess I "raised" her with the right set of values and traditions. And I was proud of her... and a bit proud of myself, too.

Traditions and values need a leader to make sure they thrive from one generation to the next. This is true for personal and business families.  I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy the gift of sharing in leadership before  the next generation takes the reins during this season of Giving Thanks!     

Thursday, November 17, 2011


If you're inadvertently revealing too much of yourself because your zipper's open, you may be in for some severe embarrassment. Now, I'm not asking you to check the zippers on your clothing (although, it's not a bad idea!).  In this case, the zipper I'm talking about is the mouth. When I was a kid, my parents told me to "zip it", when they wanted me to be quiet.  Even as an adult, I found early on that keeping my mouth zipped and paying attention was a good way to learn more than I knew.

When I started working, I repeatedly heard the phrase, "Loose lips sink ships", which was, obviously, taken from the Navy and used by business people to help us remember to be careful about revealing proprietary information when we spoke with others -- because we'd never know who was listening on the elevator, in a restaurant, or wherever.

Today, in the Facebook era, where we often "friend" anyone who asks, we have to be even more vigilant about what we say online. Our indiscretion on Facebook, or other social media sites can destroy --  in one sentence -- to a vast audience -- what we've worked hard to build over months or years.

Here's a brief excerpt from an article about corporate espionage that caught my eye (you can read the whole thing here: (Forbes_the spy who liked me). It tells the cautionary tale of an open zipper better than I can:

                "When a financial director at a privately held New York company received a friend request from an attractive blonde on Facebook, the recent divorcĂ© eagerly accepted it. As they chatted over the course of a few days, his new friend mentioned the possibility of visiting him for New Year’s Eve and asked a few innocuous questions about his business, such as how much revenue his company had. He told her he couldn’t disclose that information, but a few days later, having grown more comfortable with her, he admitted that the figure was $6.5 million.
                "The curious stranger wasn’t a ­single-looking-to-mingle. “She” was a (male) security consultant for a company called Cyberoam in Bangalore, India, that is finding out how easy it is to exploit social media for ­corporate espionage. The loose-lipped director’s New York firm was one of 20 companies that Cyberoam targeted over a six-month period, stalking ­employees on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to find leaks of sensitive ­information. The Cyberoam spies were able to predict a bankruptcy filing for a ­Singapore company, based on employees’ tweets about the company’s ­belt-tightening measures and its vice president of ­operations announcing on LinkedIn that he was job-searching."

Another thing I remember my mom and dad telling me was how important it was to choose friends wisely.  Today, with "cyberfreaks" stalking social media, it's even more important than ever to do so. Not only for the safety of our business dealings, but also for our children and our family.  Here's to good friends.              

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I've never paid much attention to the belief that it's a bad idea to develop  friendships with co-workers and customers because a personal relationship might damage the professional relationship. Actually, I think a personal relationship only strengthens the professional bond between two people.

I also believe that the best way to reinforce relationships is face-to-face contact. When that's  not possible, just get on the phone and say what has to be said, or, even better, just call to say hello.

Because I like face-to-face or "just pick up the phone" relationships, I've got to admit that I haven't been the best social media advocate, despite the growing trend.  But, I'm beginning to get the big social media picture, especially after reading results from a recent Forrester Research Survey.

 The survey, conducted online July 2011, included 60,000 participants. The results finally rattled my cage and I now have a greater appreciation for the force of social networks.

According to the survey, of all the social networks, Facebook is the only one that knows no generational limits (it includes users from preteen to 65+).  Facebook  is also the largest of the social networks. In fact, of U.S. adults who use social networking sites, 96% of them are on Facebook! Does that surprise you as much as it surprised me?

The second most-used social network is LinkedIn, used by 28% of the U.S. adult online population. LinkedIn, naturally, is used mostly by business professionals for networking and employment. But, this was most surprising to me: despite all the hoopla surrounding it, Twitter comes in at a weak third among U.S adults online.

What does all this mean to business people like us? First, there's a good chance that many of our customers are on Facebook. Second, those of us who think like entrepreneurs should be connecting with customers who are on Facebook and LinkedIn. We should use social networks as another way to stay in touch with our customers, so that we may gain a greater understanding of what issues motivate them, what their personal relationships mean to them, and how we can be of help.  (NOTE: This doesn't mean that, as business people, we should all go off and friend anyone who asks us. We should make "friends" cautiously. Next week I'll tell you a short story about the dark side to the corporate use of social media.)


Does using Facebook and LinkedIn mean we ignore the more intimate forms of communication, like invites to lunch or dinner, face-to-face meetings, or a simple phone call to co-workers and customers? Absolutely -- no! But social media, a great tool in the business of marketing our products, should be used  to reinforce our professional relationships, too.    

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Hey, I'm not spying on what you do at work. That's your personal, professional and private decision.
What I'd like to do is share with you an article I recently read about game theory at work.

This particular Wall Street Journal article, "Latest Game Theory: Mixing Work and Play" (WSJ), says that businesses from IBM to consulting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., are working to make everyday business tasks more appealing by introducing elements of videogames into the workplace.

For years, Shamrock has used the Fish philosophy of making work fun while providing the best customer experience, along with various events, to bring new and old members of the Shamrock team together. While this is not quite 21st century exploration into video games, I do agree with the tone of the WSJ article, which says outright that work should include fun and team building. After all, we spend one-third of our day at work.

The writer of the WSJ article also says that IBM and Deloitte include reward and competitive tactics commonly found in the gaming world to make tasks such as management training and brainstorming seem less like work. Employees also receive points or badges for completing jobs or meeting time limits for assignments. The article goes on to explain that some companies include competitive tactics so workplace gamers can view one another's scores, to encourage friendly competition and motivate performance.

The article even includes results of a study by Colorado Denver Business School which found that..." employees trained on video games learned more factual information, attained a higher skill level and retained information longer than workers who learned in less interactive environments."

I'm not knowledgeable enough in online gaming to say whether this is a good idea or not, but I understand that gaming is the new reality. And I believe that work should be fun.  Nevertheless, I also have to admit I'm of an old-school "show me" attitude. However, if at-work gaming can add to fun and productivity at work, then I think it's something worth investigating.

So, I will consider workplace gaming with an open mind, and I'd really be interested to discuss ideas with anyone who will share their advice about this trend with me. 

A big part of the work we do for our customers relies on new technology.  Workplace game theory may provide us with an opportunity to walk the tech talk right where we work.  It's certainly worth investigating.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I noticed a good response to my last post about the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon, so I thought I'd add a bit more fuel to the fire and tell you about my feelings towards Wall Street and how the Street overlooks the needs of middle market companies, such as Shamrock.

A few days ago I was listening to Talk of the Nation on National Public Radio (NPR), hosted by Neal Conan. I've got to tell you, I was shaking my head and shouting, "Yes!" to practically every sentence. Neal was discussing a recent study conducted by the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University. If you're interested, you can listen to or read the  whole thing here: OSU mid-size business study

Neal's guests included Marilyn Geewax, senior business editor, NPR and Christine Poon, dean, Fisher College of Business. Essentially, the study concluded that middle-market companies added 2 million workers in recent years. Yet, despite their growth, they tend to lack the lobbyists, government supporters and associations that small and big businesses enjoy -- and that's my major beef.

Neal stated that mid-market businesses get overlooked by Wall Street and by Washington, when he said:  "Small businesses are the politicians' darling. Lawmakers proclaim that small-scale entrepreneurs will be the engine of economic recovery. Others (in Washington) argue that it's big businesses that really drive the economy... they employ thousands of people all across the country or the globe.  Yet, a recent study concludes that they're both wrong, it's the middle market that's doing the hiring. As small businesses treaded water and big employers shed millions of job, mid-sized companies added some two million workers in the last couple of years. And they do all that without the help of the Small Business Administration or the Chamber of Commerce."

Ms. Geewax went on to say that middle-market businesses make up only 200,000 companies -- a mere 3 percent of all companies in the US, and yet they end up contributing about 34 percent of all private employment -- which comes out to about 41 million jobs in this country!

She went on to paint a picture that seems to reflect Shamrock. Ms. Geewax called middle-market companies "...pillars of their community... who support the Little League team, and they go to the Rotary meetings, and they're very much a part of American life... and they have these very face-to-face relationships with their customers. So when hard times hit, they don't panic so much... they don't grow so quickly, but they're just steady (and) that's really where the job growth has been. They're more stable than small businesses, but they are of course much smaller than the large multinationals and so have less ability to shape or have a voice when it has to do with regulations or public policy or legislation." Amen to that!

Hey, Wall Street and Washington, wake up! It's the hard-working, mid-size businesses that will rebuild our economy. Perhaps you should start paying more attention to our needs.   

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Until the Next Big Thing, the media is swamped with stories about "Occupy Wall Street". Even the big guns, such as the Wall Street Journal's reporter, Douglas Schoen, who states that OWT "... comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda..." (See Wall Street Journal for complete text.), to those who would refute these findings as false and misleading (See Doug Schoen misrepresents poll result to smear OWS).
As the owner of a mid-size business, far from Wall Street, I've got a problem with both sides of this argument. This perception that corruption exists between big business, banking and the government disappoints me because I don't think the majority of businesses fall into this category. Most businesses in this country fall into the mid-size range. They provide the vast majority of jobs. But, our hands have been tied by special interest groups, and so, much of the hiring in this country has been stalled by the politics practiced today.
Our country was founded, and flourished under the flag of free enterprise, largely known as Capitalism. If you're not sure what Capitalism stands for, ask your grandfather. If he's not around, look it up, or "Google It!"  Capitalism is floundering now, because many people don't take the time to fact check the opinions of others.
How many people today realize that mid-size businesses are driven by entrepreneurs who don't have the advantages and tax breaks of big business?  But, nevertheless, it is the mid-size business that drives our economy, hires people within our community and on our streets, and who, in reality, can, with government help, make our country strong again.
My biggest complaint with government, and the media ,today, is that you ignore our country's biggest opportunity for growth, which is the middle market. Entrepreneurs create 60 percent of the jobs in this country, yet our government gives most of its funding to the small majority of big businesses. So, hey, all you reporters out there, Occupy My Street... a mid-size business in mid-America that supplies the majority of jobs to the neighborhoods where it does business!

Final, final thought... Like me, you have every right to agree/disagree and voice your opinion. I'd like to hear from you.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal,  credited with the death of Iraq's Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was recently interviewed by Inc. Magazine. He discussed what business leaders can learn from the military. McChrystal is  known for speaking his mind (which may have cost him his job). I admire the man  for his honesty, despite the consequences.  Here are 3 comments from the interview and my take on them:
1. Let your guard down strategically.
When asked why he was photographed not wearing body armor, McChrystal said he generally didn't wear armor on the streets in Afghanistan, because Afghans wouldn't think he's a brave man. McChrystal said, It was not only a subtle tactic to bridge a culture gap, it was also a way to send his troops a message. "I was asking people to go out and risk their lives," he said. "You can't say one thing and then keep yourself in a hermetically sealed armored bubble."
My take: When you run a business, be prepared to get out of your office and do any job you would ask your staff to do -- from sweeping floors to making cold calls. If not, you run the risk of being perceived as a pretender who's not really on the team at all.

2. Communication should be your top priority.
McChrystal spent his commander's discretionary fund, not on guns, but on purchasing bandwidth so that all in his network could communicate with each other. McChrystal said he did this because he believes information must run both ways to create a free-flow of honest communication. He agrees it's not easy, as noted by his comment:  "You'll find that things like a cubicle wall or a walk across the street can be as wide as an ocean was 100 years ago."
My take: It's important to share information, to chat with the troops, to arrange an impromptu meeting and talk honestly about how business is going. You may leave yourself open to criticism from the team, but, on the other hand, you create honest dialog.

3. Use Commander's Intent—especially in times of crisis.
The idea of clearly expressing your vision of an end result is known as Commander's Intent. And in a time of strain or uncertainty, McChrystal says it's crucial. "This sounds simple, but if you really go into most organizations and ask what winning is going to look like, [managers each] have different ideas," McChrystal says.

My take: World-wide, business is in an economic crisis. To survive, management has  to create and communicate a unified plan of how we plan to overcome it. The plan may not be popular with the troops; it may even backfire. But it takes away the uncertainty employees have of who's running the ship and how we plan to prevent it from going under.  

Today the most successful businesses work on the basis of two often used military terms: Strategy and Tactic. Without a sound strategy and wise tactics the strongest businesses will fail.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


From the Ancient Egyptians who buried their Pharaohs with possessions they might need in the afterlife, to the Ancient Greeks who believed that there was one last  journey in the afterlife that  included being ferried across the river Styx by an eternal boatman, different cultures celebrate and mourn the passing of a friend or family member in almost as many unique ways as there are different cultures.

Just about a year ago, Shamrock remembered the passing of one of our own in a way that's unique to the Shamrock culture. It definitely was among the grandest wakes I've ever attended, and included the celebration of the spirit of a man whose passion for life exceeded that of any person I've ever met. Knowing Chris Hunter was like knowing how to live a life of joy.

I first met Chris several years ago, when he was a supplier to our company. I was so impressed with his larger-than-life personality and his ability to spread joy to everyone he met, that I asked him to join Shamrock.

Unfortunately, lovable Chris became fatally ill a few years after he joined Shamrock. When we found out about Chris's illness, we wanted to make a grand contribution to his life and the legacy of joy he would be remembered for.

The Shamrock family came together to help. Instead of our usually large Christmas Party to thank employees, family, friends, vendors and suppliers, we would have a Chris Hunter Party and establish a Chris Hunter Tribute for his wife and two children. Each of us had a different role. Some would contact vendors, invite them to join us, and ask that they make some donation for a Silent Auction. Some would, likewise, contact local businesses. Others contacted Chris's family and friends from around the country, and asked them to join us in this celebration.

Several hundred people who were touched by Chris's life joined us. We laughed, we cried, we told Chris Hunter stories.  Our Silent Auction raised $80,000, which we offered as a life-affirming gift to the Hunter family. Chris was with us in full spirit. He passed away a week before the party.

Winston Churchill said, "I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter." Sounds just like something Chris would've said. We all miss you, Chris.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Creating a business Facebook page is easy. Maintaining it - not so easy. Sort of like raising kids. Producing them - easy. Rearing them - not so easy.

If it were easy, there wouldn't be a new 5 BIG RULES FOR SUCCESSFULLY MARKETING A FACEBOOK PAGE every week or so. I've read dozens of Top 5, here's what I think are the best of the bunch:
  1. Ask any social marketing consultant what the number-one no-no is on Facebook, and he’ll likely tell you it’s “broadcasting” your messages instead of providing fans with relevant content and engaging on a continual basis. (See #2, below.)
  2. Think about your personal page and things you post that get the most attention.  We generally share things we find funny, interesting or useful with our friends. According to social media experts, it's best to punch it up and not to automate everything on your page. It’s nice to ‘set and forget,’ but there's  risk involved. The biggest risk is that Facebook places low-priority on auto-published content.
  3. Unlike traditional advertising, such as a promotional TV ad, businesses can’t  create a Facebook page and just let it run its course. Facebook is a hungry beast and requires feeding 3 or 4 times a day. It needs to be updated and monitored constantly.
  4. Many businesses suffer from Ludditeness (Adverb: the act of not wanting to manage the latest technology). Simply stated, we don't know how to evaluate the effectiveness of our Facebook page. Facebook Insights ( is a powerful analytical tool that can help any business evaluate the effectiveness of its Facebook presence. Try it. You may like it.
  5. Sometimes, in the rush to put up a Facebook page we forget Marketing 101: Be consistent with your message. Information on your Facebook page, your blog post, your email marketing campaign, direct mail, etc., should be geared to helping you build your brand; identifying what your company stands for, so that your friends, fans, business associates, and customers can pick you out from your competitors.
Since we're told, over and over again, what businesses are doing wrong on Facebook, I would guess we're all battling the same dragon. It's not an easy battle, but I think we'll all find the right way to correctly place Facebook  among our essential tools in the marketing toolbox. Like raising our kids, it will take some time and patience, but we'll get there, and mostly, like our kids, it will turn out just fine.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Remember when mission statements and corporate values were the big buzz words on the block? It all started in the late 1990s. Big shot management gurus adopted this theory that if chieftains of the  organization came together and developed a mission that drives a company, the company would flourish, and its people would multiply, and they would be proud.

There are two misconceptions about this theory. One is that it was a new concept. I disagree. Let's go back to school. What made you proud of your school? The school motto. Its colors. Its song. Its history of remembering the motto, the colors and the song, passed down from generation to generation.  I would say that schools -- the teachers, the PTA, the principal, and the students  -- developed the first mission statement and values we've adapted to the business world. And it was these emblems that made you true to your school.

The second misconception is that a good mission statement will make an organization successful. What is that malarkey all about? One of the easiest things to do is bring a group together with the sole purpose of writing an organizational mission statement. One of the hardest things to do is get it right.

Do your mission statement and corporate values hang, yellowing and ragged, on the wall or cubicle of every employee? Never read, never said? If they're just a bunch of words with no action behind them, then, yes, those papers are yellowing like an unused ribbon in a box that's never opened. Doing no one any good. Certainly not making your company bigger, better or stronger, prouder.

Most schools last for many generations. And their colors, their motto, their song, never change. Because, after all, they stand for why the school exists and they create a sense of self in the history of the school. To tamper with them would be sacrilegious. The same should be true for a mission statement. So, a lot of thought should go into it. Your wishes, dreams, business and cultural goals for the organization should be part of your mission and core values. Otherwise, it's just useless wallpaper framing a disillusioned work force.

Several years ago, we, like most organizations, brought a team together to write a mission statement. But, before we cast it in type, we wanted to make sure it had the strength to outlive generations of Shamrock employees. We asked for input from everyone at Shamrock. We made sure it not only served the needs of our customers, but that it also served the needs of everyone who worked at Shamrock.  We plan to have our mission statement and values around a long time. It will remain true to our school of thought. Don't believe me? Check out our mission, values and philosophy for yourself at

Thursday, September 15, 2011


I have a theory that, if you are stripped of everything: your home, your family, your job... your entire legacy... only then will you really know how you are regarded by others (to paraphrase the Beatles, Will you still love me...).  This vision of how I, and Shamrock are perceived, is very important to me.  When I walk around our office, I like to share the importance of this vision with my family of employees.

Often, how we see ourselves may be entirely different from how others see us. For example, we may think our jokes are humorous, but others see them as inappropriate. We may see ourselves as detail- oriented, while to others we seem to be a nitpicker. Or, what we think of as self-confidence, others may see as arrogance.  You get the picture.

Recently, I read this blog post on biospace, and want to share the link with you ( As the post suggests, offer three of your most honest friends and co-workers a list of traits and say, “I need you to mark, in 1-2-3 order (1/most to 3/least), the top three ways I might rub people the wrong way.” Warning: you need to have a thick skin to take the traits test.

Here are a few of the traits you can list (for more traits, check out the above blog post link above, or develop your own list): Arrogant -  Needy - Overly Opinionated -  Rigid - Passive - Indecisive -  Abrupt - Stuffy - Oversensitive. Are you game to try this?

I believe that  if you ask typically honest friends and co-workers to do the evaluation you'll discover recurring themes. If two different people mark “abrupt,” for example, believe them—even if you’re sure you don’t act that way. After you discover how others see you, ask them how much they feel that one or more of these traits negatively impacts how others view you and your success.

If you take this traits test honestly, you'll likely find out how you're perceived by others. I'm curious to know what you learn. You can email me, respond anonymously, if you wish, on our Facebook page, or leave an anonymous note on this post. It may make for an interesting discussion. It may even be a life-changer.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

Each of us remembers where we were on that fateful day, when the sky was so crystalline clear and blue that it almost hurt your eyes to look up. The morning seemed beautiful around the country -- from California, to Washington D.C, to Pennsylvania, to New York. But the gray pall that would capture the day remains with us, always.

I, and my senior management team were at Lakewood Country Club on September 11, 2001, with advisors helping us work through the intricacies of an employee program. We were locked away in a room without any of the electronic devices that tether us to the outside world. At 10:00am we took a break from the meeting and that's when we discovered just the beginning of what we did not yet know as fact. We called all Shamrock offices, and sent everyone home to grieve in their own private way.

Shamrock is a strong, family-oriented business. So on September 12, we resumed our lives, came together as a family, and grieved as a family. As a company, we all became more patriotic. We had prayer sessions once a month. We reached out to one another more often. For a time, business became secondary to our grief.

September 11 not only changed our profile as a family, it also changed how we conduct our business. Today, all documents and information for our customers are backed up electronically -- onsite and offsite -- so that we can protect their business and be even more mindful of customer confidentiality. As a nation, and as a company, we all grew closer together months after September 11.

A year later, I walked New York City and the hallowed ground of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11 with a friend who worked in the Towers. He might have been at work at the World Trade Center, if not for a business meeting. He is among the few lucky ones.

Ten years later, we are a different nation. We still remain among the most giving and trusting countries in the entire world. My concern, however, is that we have lost the national camaraderie that inspired the first few months following the destruction of our nation's belief that we could never be harmed on our own soil.

As a final homage to September 11, 2001, I wish for more unity among us as a proud nation of unique human beings.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I'm not egotistical enough to think that we do everything right at Shamrock. We always do our best,  but chances are we're not going to be able to please every person, every time. I'll bet pleasing everyone 100 percent of the time is a track record no one can brag about. Even McDonald's, a company that prides itself on always serving perfectly shaped burgers on perfectly shaped buns , has missed a beat now and then.

But, unlike McDonald's, our customers are paying for a lot more than the 99-cent special, and they deserve the best possible service we can provide.
Since we've built our reputation on delivering quality and service to customers, I'm pretty sure we do well in that area.
If we ever lose business over the quality of our work, I take that loss personally, and will personally try to make sure it never happens again.
But, if a customer is looking for us to deliver on price alone, well quite honestly, I've got a beef with that! (I know that on more than one occasion we have turned down an opportunity that may have been wonderful -- but the customer was hell-bent on shaving the price to the bone.)
If we compete on price alone, something's got to give. We'll still deliver on service, but chances are the quality of the product will suffer. It may suffer because we're compelled to use a cheaper quality of paper, or not use  the finest (and more costly) copywriter  for a website project, or we may have to cut back on the technology that best serves the project. It's these things, which may appear to be of little difference to the overall delivery on a project, that can really make the difference between absolute perfection or just so-so, all in the name of saving a couple of bucks.

Fast food will always have a place in practically everyone's budget. It's fast, cheap, convenient, and fills you up -- even though you may wind up paying extra for those fries. But, when you want something that is specially prepared to your taste and done to perfection,  chances are quite good that you're going to a nice restaurant that charges a fair price for excellent food, prepared with care, and delivered in style.

Our world hasn't changed that much over the years. We get what we pay for -- in business, as well as at the table.                                

Thursday, August 25, 2011


No one needs me to tell them that it's tough getting a job today. We have the media to give us that bad bit of news. But there are jobs to be had. And smart people with certain traits and skills can get jobs. Sure, sometimes opportunity knocks, but in times like these, we all have to work hard to make our opportunities.

The saying "Opportunity knocks but once" has been around since it was coined by the early Romans. I prefer what the English scholar and politician, Sir Francis Bacon" said: "A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds."  

I think of Shamrock as a source of opportunity for anyone interested in a great job at Shamrock, if they have the passion we seek. But, we really put our sales candidates through some challenging interviews. 

Before a sales candidate is hired, she or he will have to pass The Test. During The Test, a potential candidate will have to go through three doors: mine (for a 1-to-1 interview), our executive team (a tough group, with a very detailed message that's all about expectations), and our sales team (where a candidate gets the real download about working in sales at Shamrock). Essentially, a sales candidate has three opportunities to, not only learn about us, but to prove his or her worth to the team. 

Usually, even if I'm not fully sold on a candidate I will pass her along to our executive team, because, while I believe in my gut instinct, I want verification and feedback from the team.

What really will sell me on a candidate is easy.  I want to see passion. I want to see a fire in the belly. Whether he's experienced or not, I'm looking for someone who shows a lot of self-confidence, a strong desire to learn the business; someone willing to stick her neck out and think like an entrepreneur willing to answer the question," How can I grow the business?"

If someone gets through these three doors of opportunity intact, and with an ongoing level of excitement and enthusiasm throughout the process, I'd say that he or she has nailed the opportunity.

If we see fire, we hire. And we support our sales team with the tools, technology and equipment they need to be successful. We even provide leads. But (and this is a Big But), it's up to each sales person to go out and do it. Remain motivated. Make the calls, follow up on leads, and get that first meeting with a potential customer. Live up to that initial opportunity seized through a sense of commitment. I can safely say to any news salesperson, if you do all this, great opportunities will be yours for the taking.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I always wanted to be successful. I guess everyone does. Nobody gets up at 7:30am and says, "I want to be a failure." But being a success was something I felt compelled to do. I actually read the book How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. (More for amusement than instruction, of course.) The play, a funny satire based on the book, is about office politics (way before Dilbert) and it's now in revival on Broadway.

Here's a short excerpt from the book:
1. Start in a lower-level position at a company to get your foot in the door. The mail room is often a good place.
2. Get out of the mail room as soon as possible. Don't take a promotion here, or you could be stuck your entire career. Suggest someone else for the job; then go after a position in another department.
3. Get on the company president's good side. Making him think you went to the same college will work well. This can put you in line for a vice- presidency.
 4. Get a brilliant idea. This is especially true if you became Vice President of Marketing. Otherwise, you're in big trouble.
5. Endear yourself to the chairman of the board. This is needed especially if your big idea proves a disaster. Not only could it save your hide, it can put you in line to replace him when he retires.

These tips from the book couldn't possibly help me when I purchased Shamrock in 1989. Then it was just me and seven employees. I literally was the company president, the VP of marketing and the chairman of the board -- all rolled into one hotshot! No one to suck up to! That's when I quickly realized I had to endear myself  to these seven employees, because I'd never survive without their expertise and input.

Each year I learn, over and over again, that my success as a manager is measured by the success of the people who work with me. I also realize that, over and over again, I look to hire people who  are happy to start at the bottom (in the proverbial "mail room") if that's what it takes to get a foot in the door.  But I look for people with a fire in the belly who want to be challenged and move up to the next rung and then the next. Once these folks are motivated I stay out of their way and let them keep climbing. 

A manager's success in business does not come from a My Way or the Highway Philosophy. That kind of thinking is just plain stupid. Success comes from listening to the ideas of the people on your team, and working together -- cheering one another on -- to achieve the goals you've planned for.  Oh, and there's nothing wrong with remaining in the mail room, as long as that's where you want to be, and you're doing a damn good job there.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


During his three terms as New York's mayor, Ed Koch was known for asking just about everyone, "How am I doing?" Koch tackled a problem head-on, asking that dreaded question, and expecting an honest answer. He was known to immediately address an issue before it became a major problem. Koch was one of the most popular mayors New York has ever had.

I always admired Koch for his fortitude at facing his "customers" in a very public way, and in my early years as a sales manager I learned, like Mayor Koch,  if you ignore a problem, it escalates. No. It doesn't go away; it just grows bigger and bigger until it explodes in your face like a rogue firecracker.

Still young, and green, I was assigned to work with an important customer. We had printed a huge number of  brochures for this customer. One problem -- it was on the wrong paper stock. There was very little difference between the paper stock we printed on and the paper stock the customer had requested. Chances are, the customer would never have known. But I told him. Why? If he discovered the difference without me telling him, I'd certainly lose his respect, and maybe even his business. Better to get it out in the open and face his disappointment than face dread for days and weeks, thinking that he will eventually discover the mistake. I made the right decision. Today, his company continues to be one of our best customers.

This honesty with customers has become the backbone of how Shamrock chooses to do business. I encourage everyone who meets with customers to ask , "Tell, me how are we doing?" and wait through the dreaded pause, until the customer answers. That pause, which may only be 60 seconds, can seem like an hour spent sitting in the rain on the topmost part of a roller coaster looking at the steepest decline you've ever seen.

The best outcome to your question is that your customer will actually tell you the truth. If something's wrong, you can clear the air. When I ask, I like to watch my customer's expression when he or she responds. Is it evasive? Warm? Hostile? Submissive? The worst  is a customer who's submissive. That tells me he's not invested in the project and really doesn't value our relationship enough to care about the outcome. The best  is a customer who tells me exactly what she thinks of how and where the project is headed -- even if it hurts my ego to its core. I can finally exhale and, if necessary, say, "We can fix that."

Without asking "how am I doing?", I'd never know if the project's going well or not. And not knowing how I'm perceived by a customer is worse than not knowing where my next project will be coming from. And, if you don't ask, and you don't know, you may never again have the opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief to an answer from that particular customer.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


As I'm writing this, at long last, a deal on raising the US debt ceiling and cutting spending has been reached.  Had we reached the cutoff point for averting a national crisis, I'm sure a Benevolent Dictator would have stepped in and said, "the buck stops here, and this is what we must do, now." If you're curious about management by Benevolent Dictator, I'm happy to fill you in:

 When I first heard the term Benevolent Dictator, I thought I'd heard wrong. It sounds like a contradiction in terms.  After all, benevolent means kind, caring, compassionate. Throughout history, dictators have been called tyrants and bring to mind dreaded names from cutthroat countries ruled by warlords and petty thieves. Put the two words together and it doesn't seem like a very good match.

What changed my mind about the term was a book written by Michael Feuer, founder of Office Max and his contributing editor, Dustin Klein, the publisher and executive Editor of the 17 regional Smart Business magazines read around the country.

I saw the cover of Michael's book, The Benevolent Dictator, which claimed to show readers how to empower people, build business, and outwit the competition. Who could resist such an offer? After I read Michael's book, I was so impressed, I invited him to speak at Shamrock's May 2011 sales meeting. (Michael was a roaring success.)

The reason I was attracted to Michael's take on Benevolent Dictator was a simple statement he made during the sales meeting. Michael said, "The benevolent aspect of a benevolent dictator means doing the greatest good for your constituents: your investors, your employees and your customers. The dictator comes in when the time for talking is done. Building consensus is terrific, but in business, when you have to move from mind to market quickly, sometimes it’s just not practical."

Well, I got the “benevolent” part. But, I also agree with the "dictator" part.

In day-to-day management or in a business crisis (and sometimes in politics), a Benevolent Dictator has to be that someone who knows when to say,  "enough is enough."  Debate, conversation and analysis can only take an organization so far.  The job of the entrepreneur, manager or CEO is to say, “We’re taking this fork in the road, for better or worse, and it’s on my head.”  He or she is the one person who makes the important decisions when it counts – while others vacillate, the clock is ticking and resources are dwindling. Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts on the subject.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Last week our guest blogger, Kasey Crabtree, talked about several reasons why B2C businesses should have a Facebook page. While Shamrock is primarily a B2B company, we're also B2C. Actually, every B2B company is a little bit B2C. We're all trying to reach our target customers -- who are -- consumers! We woo them, and, hopefully, begin a long, meaningful relationship with them. Building relationships is the essential reason why Shamrock is on Facebook.

Actually, we're on Facebook for several reasons. First of all, we've got to walk the talk. After all, if we tell our customers to build a Facebook page and make it relevant to their customers, we better have a presence on Facebook, too.  Unlike other marketing tactics (including e-mail marketing, direct mail, and other great tools), Facebook is the best instrument in the marketing tool box to provide immediacy and a personalized response to a question, a remark or a suggestion.

Secondly, Facebook is a place where you can show your stuff so people will "like" you. We've built our Facebook page so that people can get to know us better -- and hopefully, "like" us. How? Well, those who know us well know that we're a big supporter of our community. We enjoy creating, and participating in events that help make our Westlake, Ohio neighborhood a great place to live and work. We plan to use the immediacy of Facebook to invite friends to join us at these events.  And quite soon we'll be starting a promotion Q&A community hosted by Tim Berry, the strategic genius behind our promotional team. Friends will be able to ask Tim a question about their upcoming event, tradeshow or incentive program, and he'll have a qualified answer within a day.

Finally, we're on Facebook because it's good business. It's a more personal way for you to get to know us. How we think, how we work, even how we play. It brings us closer to the people who work and do business with us; but, perhaps they don't know us as well as they might if we were next door neighbors. Facebook allows businesses to not only be more social, but to be "friends" who are there when you need a question answered, or a problem solved.

If you've checked us out on Facebook lately, you've seen that we recently gave our website a complete overhaul ( I'd love your feedback on our new design, and how we present ourselves. Leave your remarks on our Facebook page and I'll quickly respond.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Blog Alert! -- Bob has handed this week's post over to a guest. Kasey Crabtree is our own social media expert, as well as one of our finest sales executives, with extra duties as Shamrock's social media specialist. This year Kasey has the honor of being the City Lead Organizer for Cleveland's Twestival 2011, a one-day Twitter Festival that uses social media for social good.  As a social media maven, Kasey has volunteered some serious social time to The Cleveland Clinic, Malachi House, and Westlake Junior Women's Club. Her Twitter name is @KaseyCrabtree, and she has more than 2800 Twitter followers.

This guest post all started when I sent an email to co-workers at Shamrock about a recent Twitter event I attended. I kind of bragged that the event was picked up on WEWS - TV 5 (you can see the TV spot here:"). Hosted by in conjunction with the Cleveland Indians, this "tweetup event" is basically a big networking/drinking/ eating gathering where everyone shares their Twitter handle and talks about their participation in the world of social media. This is a great way to meet people in person after only interacting with them online.

So now, my default function here is to talk about what's on the horizon for social media marketing. First, the simple stuff. We should all know that each social media platform has a different audience and serves a different purpose. The three most common social media platforms are Facebook (very social but also a great resource for Business-to-Consumer businesses), LinkedIn (strictly business, rather than social), and Twitter (the cocktail party of social media -- a great way to meet people and decide if you want to get to know them better). It's also a good way for businesses to check and see what people are saying about them, and respond in real time.

So, what's new in the social universe? Right now, everyone's talking about Google+. Some are saying it will overtake Facebook. Since this is a post rather than a thesis, I won't over-explain the differences between Google+ and Facebook, except to say that "early adopters" are extolling the virtues of Google+, mainly because it's new, and there are some features, such as setting up circles (of friends, acquaintances, family, etc.), which can make it easier than Facebook to catch up with others. The downside to Google+? So many people have adopted Facebook (more than 750 million), I don't know how many of those people will feel compelled to essentially duplicate their Facebook experience on Google+, which currently has about 18 million users. I'm not among the folks predicting an early demise for Facebook because of Google+. If you'd like to know more about Google+, you can "google" Google+, or check this out:

Finally, if there's just one message I'd like this post to leave you with, it's this: If you are a B2C business, set up a Facebook page. Make it work for you. Post new products and trends. Be a resource for your audience. Become the go-to place for answers relevant to their needs. Drive people from Facebook to your website and your website's blog. Be the resource! Be social (in today's tough market, it's a good way to maintain contact, and build your brand). I have many more ideas. If you'd like to chat, give me a call at 440-250-2243.