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.