Wednesday, December 19, 2012

GIVING AT CHRISTMAS IS EASY. Bob sends holiday wishes to everyone, with hope that the spirit of giving extends through the year.

We've all witnessed how our nation gathers together to help when tragedy strikes. The same is true at holiday time. We think more about the needy, more about our neighbors, and we look for ways to give with simple acts of kindness. And that kindness is generally returned this time of year.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could pay it forward the rest of the year? About a month ago there was a news story about a woman who was short some money at a local Target store. The person in line in front of her overheard it and left money to pay her bill. Later, at another store, she paid the bill for a person behind her. This made national news simply because it's so rare, on just an average day, to see an act of kindness like this. If acts of kindness like this happened every day, can you imagine how much nicer our world would be?

I was raised to believe the act of giving should be performed throughout the year. The wonderful people who work at Shamrock also believe this. Shamrock employees practice kindness daily and it makes working here a better place. There are countless fundraisers throughout the year. Most raise money for charity in fun and interesting ways that engage the whole company. Some are more seriously thought out due to the nature of the event.

So, I want to say a simple "thank you" to every person who works at Shamrock and extend best wishes to their families, their friends and their special charities for a joyous holiday season and a happy, healthy and, fruitful New Year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

THE ART OF GIVING BACK. Bob looks at Shamrock's past, present and future giving.

A Christmas Carol is the story of redemption. When Scrooge visits the home of Bob Cratchit, bearing gifts and goodwill, he is saved from a life of misery.

As kids, we would read the story or see the movie on television, and the family would discuss the act of giving, not only at Christmas, but throughout the year.

The act of sharing has carried over onto my personal family and my Shamrock family. Every employee at Shamrock works hard to give back to the community that's been so good to us. This year we raised money for Cystic Fibrosis, Our Lady of the Wayside, and countless organizations through activities devised by Shamrock's  fundraising committee. Each year this committee comes up with ideas that are sometimes wacky but always wonderfully creative ways to raise money for various charities.

This year we'll donate money raised by events that include Jeans Friday. I'm not a big advocate of dress down days in the workplace, but I was made an offer by the fundraising committee that I couldn't refuse. Shamrock employees would pay good money to dress in jeans on Friday, and that money is donated to a Shamrock charity.

Because I like to see our sales team dressed for business, another favorite fundraiser of mine is that salesmen at Shamrock are required to wear a tie at work every day. If I see one without a tie, or if I hear of a man on the sales team who hasn't worn a tie, he's obligated to donate $100 to a charity.

Speaking of ties, during the holiday season I will sell my Christmas ties and the money raised goes to charity. It's become a tradition at Shamrock that the men on the sales team wear holiday ties (often bought from Bob) from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

The fundraising committee likes to make the spirit of giving at Shamrock fun and competitive. By the time the holiday season arrives we're generally in high gear, looking forward to donating a nice sum of money or other gifts to Shamrock's favorite charities.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

IS IT REALLY BETTER TO GIVE THAN RECEIVE? As we approach the holidays, Bob examines whether it truly is better to give.

A few weeks ago Shamrock represented the 8th Annual Our Lady of the Wayside 2012 Starlight Guardian Humanitarian Award Luncheon, which celebrates Those Who Embrace The Spirit of Giving. I was honored to be the host of the event which included 700 guests. We raised $100,000 in ten minutes at the luncheon.

Our Lady of the Wayside is a non-profit residential service provider for children and adults with developmental disabilities. Shamrock became involved with this wonderful home years ago when my brother-in-law, Dale Masino, told us about his brother, who was among the first residents to live at Our Lady of the Wayside.

Since that time, Shamrock has become deeply involved with raising funds for this, and other worthwhile organization. It is also among the community charities we endeavor to help with our hearts, our hands and our checkbooks.

Greater Cleveland has always been known to open its heart to people in need in our communities. But now, more than ever, I see an increased spirit of giving. I see people who are more conscious of the haves vs. the have nots, and I see a genuine willingness to share and enhance the quality of life with our friends and neighbors who have times of need.

One of the wonderful benefits of working with Our Lady of the Wayside is that we actually have a chance to see improvement in the lives of people we help. Less than 50 years ago families had little help with special needs children. Today, thankfully, there are so many organizations that provide financial and emotional assistance, along with education advantages and outreach programs to enrich the lives of people with developmental disabilities.

It's not just individuals in Greater Cleveland who benefit from the joy of giving. More and more today businesses reap rewards beyond the satisfaction of helping neighbors in need. Now it's considered a measure of success for companies to be socially responsible. So, as we give, we also receive. We receive high marks as good corporate citizens from the community, which, in turn, makes us a more valuable partner with other businesses who wish to work with us. This holiday season, as we give, we will get so much in return.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

THOUGHTFUL GIFTING. This week, Bob carefully considers the act of gift-giving.

A couple weeks ago my wife Cyndi and I were waiting at the airport and began talking about the season, which led to thinking about holiday gifts. As we were talking Cyndi and I looked up at the nearby television, and we saw again the devastation of Staten Island, New York, parts of Queens and New Jersey, along the path of Hurricane Sandy. And here we were, warm and comfortable, waiting for an airplane that would take us to our warm, dry home -- quite comfortably discussing holiday gift-giving.

We looked at one another, and both agreed that this year we must include a holiday gift for the people on the East Coast affected by the storm.

When Katrina destroyed so much of Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, Shamrock people got together to raise money for those affected by the hurricane. We have a special employee committee that plans events to raise funds for organizations that serve the needs of people in our community. But sometimes, as in the case of Katrina in 2005, and now, in the aftermath of Sandy, this committee plans events to provide assistance way beyond our immediate community to include our distant neighbors.

To raise funds for Katrina, the committee arranged a Dunk Bob Tank Day. We've all seen these tanks filled with water and a chair. The designated person sits in the chair and if he or she is hit with a ball by one of the participants, the designated one splashes into the water. For Katrina we raised $10,000. (Someone suggested we do a Dunk Bob Tank Day for Sandy. I vetoed this idea, since right now it's darn cold outside. But, the committee is planning an event for the holiday season that will raise funds to assist the people on the East Coast.)

While the devastation in Louisiana and Mississippi was similar to the devastation in areas along the east coast, there are also differences. Especially in the parishes affected in New Orleans, many of the people hit by the storm had very little to begin with. Simple things such as clean, warm, used clothing were very meaningful to them. The needs on the East Coast may be somewhat different. I believe we should be sensitive to the different needs of various people when thinking about gift giving.

The same holds true for holiday gifts. In addition to gifts for the East Coast survivors and their families, our employees will receive a holiday gift and we will still have a holiday party -- as always. And as always, our planning team will think carefully to choose a gift that will be of equal joy to every recipient. So the gift must be something that can be used by everyone, from those who work on the floors of our warehouse to those who sit behind the doors of management team.

Thinking about the right gift takes time, but when you make the right decision it's priceless!  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

OWNING THE SEASON OF GIVING THANKS. Bob shares some of his special family traditions this week.

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!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

MOTHER STILL RULES. This week, Bob reflects on what he's thankful for and a special thought about Sandy.

The first week in November gave me jolt and I was thankful. While many of us were beginning to make plans for the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, Mother Nature has some plans of her own.

Old Mother Nature cut off power at our corporate office in Westlake, Ohio and we had to shut down for several days due to the storm. Thankfully, no employees were around when the power went out. And thankfully, no one was hurt in the wake of Storming Sandy. Although, some of us did face power failures and some storm damage that is, luckily, fixable. Mother Nature still has the final word!

Right now, I'd say knowing that everyone I know is safe following this major storm is what I'm mostly thankful for.

Of course, there are certain things I'm always grateful for. My childhood, thanks to wonderful parents, leaves me with warm memories of growing up with love, a good education, clean clothes and lots of fun. My parents weren't pushovers. We had to do well in school, or feel their wrath. While not as strong as the wrath of Mother Nature, I'd never want to be on my mom's wrong side! I also was blessed to grow up with both grandparents who guided me, gave me strength, and taught me right from wrong.

When I met my wife, I inherited another wonderful family. Unlike my parents, who were more reserved, my wife's family is made up of huggers. At first, I was uncomfortable, because this was so new to me. My wife's family is more outwardly affectionate; they hug at family gatherings and also greet visitors with a hug. But I soon learned from them the value of a warm hug, and easily learned not to fear affection.

After graduating college, I also was blessed to find a job that was challenging and fulfilling, and also provided the resources to build relationships with business people who showed me how to carve a path to success, and develop a business of my own.

Today, I am lucky to be surrounded by my own family, my family of employees and my family of business peers who continue to provide sound advice and ample support.

There is one last group of people for whom I have the greatest affection, and I give thanks for this special group every day. They are Shamrock's customers. Some are my very first customers, many have been with us for years, some are new to the Shamrock family, and I have a special affection for each of them. All have been honest with me and helpful in providing me with the tools to make my business better and stronger. A special shout-out to Blaze Coraretti, one of my first and fondest customers, who worked at Reliance Electric. From that start in the 1980s, Reliance Electric became our first large customer. Our relationship from the beginning was built on a mutual respect for one another. To this day, Blaze is at the top of my list of people I've been thankful to know.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

THANKS TO VETERANS. This week, Bob gives thanks to veterans old and new.

I like it that November, the month of Thanksgiving, begins with a tribute to veterans who are gone and those who are with us today. Without these people in service, it's likely that the freedoms we hold so close to our hearts might be different than they are today.

As a young college student, it was my hope to follow in my father's footsteps and help save our country by enlisting in the U.S. Naval Air Corps. My dad was part of The Greatest Generation. He left his job and family to fight for our freedom at one of the most critical times in the history of our country.

Unfortunately for me, I was not able to serve, so I have had to live my military life through my father, and more recently, through my son-in-law, Scott.

On October 31, Scott became a military veteran, after serving 13 years as a navy pilot. He served 4 years overseas and most recently spent 7 months in Northeast Africa, involved in counter-terrorism action. Scott can tell you firsthand that terrorism is on the rise and focused primarily on the United States.

If you fast-forward from my dad's generation, I believe we, as a country, have a very complacent attitude toward our military. I believe strongly that our country's strength will only continue through a strong military!

Reflecting on this Veterans Day, let's stand together and pledge that our freedom should never be compromised, and give heartfelt thanks to the U.S. military and the veterans young and old who are vigilant about protecting our freedom.

Did you know that the first Federal holiday commemorating Veterans Day, (legislated as part of the Uniform Holiday Bill), was signed on June 28, 1968? Under Gerald Ford, the original date of November 11th was designated as a Federal holiday, unless the date falls on a weekend. In that case, such as this year, it is observed on the following Monday (November 12, 2012). Veterans Day continues to be a celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

SHOW ME YOUR SCAREDY SIDE. As Halloween comes closer, Bob asks some employees what they're afraid of.

Halloween is less than a week away, and I'm fascinated to see how people embrace their fearful (and fun) side of this holiday. Many homes are decorated in orange lights, with ghosts and goblins taking up residence in the front yard. Today Halloween is like a warm-up to the big holiday season. And I love it!

We generally try to have some fun for Halloween at Shamrock. This year, we asked employees about their own quirky fears and phobias. I wasn't surprised to find a lot of people suffer from arachnophobia (fear of spiders). Arachnophobia is the number one fear people have. Heck, they even made a movie about fear of spiders in 1990 and titled it Arachnophobia. I bet it was a blockbuster.

Other phobias some people at Shamrock share include glossophobia (fear of public speaking); scoleciphobia (fear of worms); claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces); gephyrophobia (fear of high bridges over water), and fear of missing deadlines (we have no actual phobic name for this, but we all face it from time to time).

In honor of Halloween, we've put together a list of the Ten Most Common Phobias:

  1. Arachnophobia (the most common) -- fear of spiders.
  2. Ophidiophobia -- fear of snakes.
  3. Acrophobia -- fear of heights.
  4. Agoraphobia -- fear of situations in which escape is difficult.
  5. Cynophobia -- fear of dogs.
  6. Astraphobia -- fear of thunder and lightning.
  7. Trypanophobia -- fear of injections.
  8. Social Phobias -- fear of social situations (events, places, people)
  9. Pteromerhanophobia -- fear of flying.
  10. Mysophobia -- fear of germs or dirt.
The Internet actually lists hundreds of phobias that range from the obscure to the ridiculous to the potentially threatening to a person's lifestyle.

One of the newest phobias on a large list of obscure ones is nomophobia, the fear of being out of mobile phone contact -- kind of a ridiculous phobia. But, why is it we like being scared? One reason I found is that the same place of the brain that experiences fear also is associated with pleasure. It is also a method of testing and overcoming our limits as well as realizing we are not always in danger and can enjoy the adrenalin rush. Enjoy your Halloween! 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

SCARED TO ACT? JUST DO IT. This week, Bob talks about those spooky business-related fears we all have, and how to overcome them.

Like a marriage, being good at your job takes work. We all experience cycles of happiness and worries about our future at work. But if your worries become fear then you're held hostage by those fears and before you know it, you're doing nothing!

I believe the biggest fear we have today is the fear of change. Change used to be an evolution. Today it's revolutionary. A year ago, I never would have thought I'd be writing blog posts, or checking LinkedIn to see what my contemporaries and my employees are talking about. But now I just do it.

We all want to succeed, but in order to do so, we have to change; we have to keep up with the ever faster spinning world around us. People younger than I may have fewer fears about new technology. But there are age-old fears, like making a new business presentation, speaking in front of an audience, or making a mistake on a big project, that will always be present. We should use these fears to make ourselves and our business smarter, faster, and more competitive.

The best ways to overcome fear?
Practice Your Fear. The more you do something that scares you, the easier it becomes. Take, for example, the most common fear for people who are selling: fear of closing. Treating a sales cycle as a series of small closes makes closing the deal easier when it's finally time to ask for the business.
Rehearse Your Fear. Superstars in sports and entertainment call this visualization. If you repeatedly rehearse something in your mind, while at the same time visualizing yourself as being calm, confident and collected, you naturally will give a better performance.
Reframe Your Fear. When the economy tanked we had to make tough business decisions to remain competitive. Was it better to fire some folks or ask the team to take some unpaid leave? We chose the latter and lessened the fear of unemployment among the troops.
Reassociate Your Fear. Taking risks in business is like getting on a roller coaster — except that you get to do some steering, so you're actually a bit more in control. It turns out that fear you're feeling isn't really fear after all. It's excitement!
Use Your Fear. Sometimes fear is a signal that you need to do something. If you're afraid to ask for the business, it may just be your subconscious telling you it's getting close to the point where you need to ask for the business. To use the well-worn Nike slogan one more time: "Feel the fear, then just do it."

The biggest lesson I've learned in business (and life) is what's most scary is that one thing we think we have no control over. The best way to eliminate the fear is to take control of it as best you can. ###

Friday, October 12, 2012

SCARY BOSS? CHANGE YOUR MINDSET. This week, Bob talks about his personal experiences as a freshman employee.

Continuing the theme of Halloween month and scary business dealings, I've been asked about my scariest job or the boss who made my life on the job a really big challenge.

My first big job after graduating college was with Moore Business Forms. I worked in sales at Moore for 12 years. I had two bosses. One was a smart direct marketing pro in his mid-twenties (at the time, he was the youngest DM person in the business). He was personable, helpful and taught me that if I can't affect change I shouldn't fret over the problem. 

As I moved into a more senior position, this man cautioned me not to become too friendly with employees I managed. His reasoning was that, being friends with my employees might make it more difficult to perform tough decisions that affect the company later on. I was influenced by his management style, but I didn't buy into his theory about being friends with people who reported to me. (Although he wasn't one to be a pal to employees, this man was passionate about treating them well.) He was a great mentor to me and, later on, when he became CEO of one of the largest business forms companies in the U.S., we continued to be good friends.

My second boss at Moore; well, let's say he was not the type of boss I would choose as a mentor, a role model, or a friend.

I had been selling in our mid-market tier for several years and wanted a bigger challenge. I asked to work on a list of unsold accounts. These were larger accounts on our list of potential clients, so I wouldn't have directly taken work away from other sales people. He said no. I was angry enough to look for another job. Offered a job in Chicago, I was set to leave Moore until family issues got in the way. Ultimately, I stayed with Moore, but I knew that I would have to affect change.

With the self-knowledge that I was respected at Moore, and that my sales performance was quite good, I took issue with this man's leadership and spoke up for myself. I got my promotion and also had the good fortune to not have to report to him. He used intimidation to lead. He also looked out for himself rather than his employees. I knew from the beginning that I wouldn't want to be that kind of boss.

For the most part it's not bosses who are scary, it's the situation that's scary. Sometimes we have no control, or we've lost control of a situation. Loss of control is what's scary. I would advise anyone who feels helpless in a situation to seek help from a trusted supervisor or workplace ally. If the situation is helpless, then perhaps the best thing to do is remove yourself from the situation. In the workplace, it may be time to seek employment elsewhere. If that's the case, I would advise someone to prepare for the inevitable and plan to find a job that offers more personal rewards.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT. This week, Bob talks work-related fears that keep some of us up at night.

This is Halloween month -- a good time to pick at the fears and phobias many of us experience in the workplace.

We've all had at least one day filled with disturbances, upheavals and, sometimes, catastrophes at work. Most times, they work out just fine at the end. Other times, we take them home with us like an over-stuffed briefcase that needs attention immediately. It's those days that can often turn into sleepless nights worrying over things that may or may not be within our control. My advice, if you can fix it, get it done the following day. If you can't, bite down hard on your ego and get a trusted co-worker to help you figure it out.

Unfortunately, some worries are out of our control. For example, a recent Fortune article stated that, in a survey by Harris International, American workers' biggest fear is still being fired or laid off. (Although, this was down from 9% to 4% over the previous study conducted in 2011.) Other major disturbances noted in the survey were taking jobs unrelated to one's chosen career, unreasonable workload and stagnant earnings.

Granted, the economy is still not robust, but there are signs it's getting better, so many employee fears that are out of their control may disappear over time.

And then there are the fears that may be considered self-imposed. Several months ago, CareerBuilder did an online poll of what employees fear most. Twenty-six percent fear getting yelled at by their boss, 23% fear forgetting to set their alarm and oversleeping, 18% fear presenting in front of a group, 15% accidently hitting "reply all" to an email, 11% meeting with executives and 9% getting caught visiting an inappropriate website.

What's the one thing all of these fears have in common? They can be controlled. By you! Sure, you may get yelled at by your boss because of something out of your control, or by an error you made. So, you made a mistake. I learned two things about fearing the boss early in my career. The first was to never avoid dealing with the problem immediately and head-on. Avoiding the problem will compound the outcome tenfold in a negative way. Second, if you cannot effect a change to correct a problem, then don't worry about it. I was given this advice from one of my first bosses and it helped me deal with problems with confidence. We all make mistakes or have fears; it's how quickly we deal with them that counts! Let your boss know what difficulties you're struggling with. Believe me, a good boss wants to know and wants to help.

The other fears, as noted in the CareerBuilder survey are those which can be strictly controlled by you, using common sense. Set your alarm the same time each night (and check batteries twice a year). If your advancement depends on it, ask your boss to provide presentation skills training, or check out some ideas online to curb presentation fears. Don't email angry! Prepare for meetings. Don't visit inappropriate websites at work. Then, poof, the fears are gone.

Some employees feel trapped by fear of The Boss, because it is The Boss who holds what may appear to be subjective power that allows you to move up the career ladder and make more money. The reality is, in most situations, most bosses respect strong individuals who can overcome obstacles by intelligently  asking for assistance and relying on help when needed with a difficult situation. This fear of The Boss, like most fears, is self-imposed and can be made to disappear with self-assurance and good judgment.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

IS ENTERTAINING CLIENTS JUST GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP? This week, Bob evaluates the entertainment bottom-line, as we kickoff the client entertainment season.

In the Northeast, the season for playing golf with clients is winding down, but Fall is the kickoff for sports -- and an upswing in client entertainment. Sports and client entertainment seem made for each other. But, with the economy still in flux and with many businesses carefully watching their bottom-line, should we also be looking at the intended purpose for client entertainment?

Essentially, the ROI on client entertainment is not easy to measure. And in the new economy, lavish business entertaining may be considered out of line. But, showing clients you do appreciate their business builds good rapport and allows you to get to know them better. I like to bring my wife when I entertain, and encourage clients to bring a guest, too. I've had clients who asked if they could bring their kids. Why not? Once, a client from Dayton asked if he could bring his son along to a sports event. Talking with his son was not only a pleasure, it added a whole new dimension to our relationship that went beyond the day-to-day way we interacted as business associates.

Bringing along employees who support the sales team also has benefits that you can't put a dollar sign on. The support team can personalize, and often cement a business relationship in ways that are invaluable. I overheard an employee from the HR department casually talking with a client at a CAVS game. She uncovered a work-related problem that was nagging the client, and she suggested an easy fix. The client thought the idea was great. The employee felt her input was valuable, so she was happy. Obviously, the client was happy. Stuff like this doesn't make the bottom-line shine, but it goes a long way to building better business relationships with clients and employees!

Of course, business entertaining can go beyond sports events. Dinner and the theater is a time-honored tradition. Some of my business associates prefer to be low-key and privately entertain at home. While preparing this post, I read a story in The New York Times about sweat equity entertaining, where young execs take clients to the gym. I'm not sure if that's going to become part of my entertaining repertoire, but if it works for you, then it works.

The advantages of client entertaining will always be immeasurable. Good work will always surpass a good game. That said, I do believe that client entertainment is part of building relationships, whether it's a sports event or a backyard picnic. Keep in mind, it's not the event; it's the intent.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

THIS WORKS FOR ME. This week, Bob chooses his work-related dream team.

Earlier this month, I put together my all-time baseball dream team, with lots of heavy-hitters from various decades. That post got me thinking about who I'd want on my team in the workplace. Since it's a fantasy team, here, too, I chose some heavy-hitters from various decades to be an integral part of my team.

A. Malachi Mixon, III, Chairman of the Board, Invacare. Mal is the essence of what an entrepreneur should be. During the course of an hour he can be tough, challenging, forthright and exhibit the best business savvy of anyone I've met. He's headed Invacare since 1979 when he and a group of Cleveland-based investors bought the company from then-parent Johnson & Johnson. He serves on the boards of several Cleveland-area corporations and civic organizations, including chairmanship of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, along with being recognized nationally for his entrepreneurial skills and leadership. I'd choose Mal as an integral member of my team because of his intense foresight. He'd instinctively know who to choose to make a winning team.

Michael Feuer, founder of OfficeMax. From the moment he started working, Michael knew he wanted to be CEO of a successful company. In 1988, after leaving a senior position with JoAnn Fabric stores, Michael founded a new concept in office supply. Today, everyone knows OfficeMax. In 2010, Michael took the same concept used to develop OfficeMax... (“we took the stuff out of the boxes, brought it to life, let people touch it, feel it and added a sense of drama and theater")... to create Max-Wellness, a vital health and wellness brick and mortar shopping experience. I'd choose Michael to manage a team of fresh, young faces, because he would know how to develop a young business team and get the best work out of each person.

Donald Misheff, former Northeast Ohio managing partner, Ernst & Young Cleveland. I met Don four years ago and he has been a great friend and advisor to me regarding the significance of being an active board member in the communities we serve. Don has also been a great friend to the Shamrock Companies. He is highly respected in the community and sits on several major boards, including Tri-C Foundation; board chairman, Firestone Country Club; chair, finance and audit committee, Playhouse Square Foundation; chair, finance committee, Team NEO; finance chair, as well as the board of Ashland University, to name just a few. Don gets good things done - quickly! I'd want Don on my business team because he's integral to developing sound business practices. Plus, he's the best finance guy around, and he knows how to network with people to gain the ground needed to develop a business successfully.

I learned valuable lessons from each of these great business leaders. I learned how to encourage young entrepreneurs hired at Shamrock; I learned the importance of partnering with clients and asking them for genuine feedback on the work we do; I learned the value of board participation to help brand one's business; and I learned that, no matter how important just one person may be, ultimately, he puts his pants on the same as I do.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

HEADS OR TAILS? This week, Bob discusses both sides of fantasy football's effect on the workplace.

Some employers dread the start of fantasy football season as a drain on productivity; others think it's a minor waste of employee time. Obviously, there are two sides to this issue. Should employers come down hard on fantasy football, or just let it ride? Even critics seem to be at odds with this trend.

For example, in 2008 the outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas measured the effects of fantasy football in terms of lost workplace productivity. The firm said that the game would cost employers $9.2 billion, based on the more than 20 million playing. Actually, in 2011 the cost of playing fantasy football at work is probably double that figure (See the graph here).

However, in September 2011, the outplacement firm softened its stance on fantasy football in the workplace.

"It is difficult for companies to take a hard-line stance against fantasy football," James Challenger said in a blog post. "The Internet technology that helped fuel the rapid growth of fantasy football participation and makes it possible to manage teams from one's desk also makes it possible for employees to attend to work duties during their personal time." In other words, Challenger believes that employee time lost in the workplace is often made up for at home, while watching the kids' soccer game, or at other off-time locations.

Challenger actually analyzed the financial impact of fantasy football on employers during the 2010 season and found little or no effect on productivity. His conclusion was, if employers put a ban on all fantasy football or sports websites, it might backfire and cause reduced morale and loyalty. Challenger stated that the reduced morale and loyalty that results from such a ban could be far worse than the loss of productivity caused by 10 to 20 minutes of team management each day.

In fact, research suggests businesses that encourage playing fantasy football by organizing a company league are likely to see significant benefits in morale as well as productivity. Some note that fantasy football may be good for business. In addition to the positive effect on employee relationships, 20% of players in a 2006 survey said playing fantasy sports helped them make a valuable business contact. (BOB NOTE: This may be more rationalization than reality, though.)

My takeaway on this issue is, if employers do have productivity concerns, senior management should remind employees that their participation in a fantasy football league is a non-work related activity; therefore, it should not interfere with their job performance.

I've been around long enough to know that employees don't spend 100% of their time doing their work at work, so if they only spend 20 minutes a day on fantasy football, I'm just happy that's all it is.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

THIS IS MY FANTASY. This week, Bob talks about his dream team (hint: it's not about football).

First, those who know me know that I'm an avid baseball fan. And despite the fact that we're going headfirst into football season, and my Indians didn't make the playoffs, I can dream, can't I? (By the way, I've heard that fantasy football is a billion dollar business!)
Second, you may be asking, "What does fantasy baseball have to do with business?" Well, I'll get to that, too.

Meantime, you folks can go ahead and devise your own football dream team. Here's my baseball dream team, which I'll take any time!

I've selected my fantasy baseball team pretty much the way I usually select employees: ability to play the game (willingness to roll up sleeves and dig into the work at hand), character (always important; in sports and in work), and commitment to the game (show me you're in it for the long haul). Also, each of the players on my fantasy team played for the joy of the game. Not for the fame or the money.

Catcher: Jim Hegan played for the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s. I was a catcher on my hometown baseball team and I held Hegan in high regard. He had little exposure to other teams, but he was an exceptional player and a highly respected family man. He reached out to youth.

Pitcher: Orel Hershiser came from a larger market, but finished his career with the Cleveland Indians. On a high note, I might add. He provided the team with leadership. A former Bowling Green State University student, Hershiser played with humility and strength, despite his career with the biggest teams in baseball.

3rd Base: Max Alvis was a star in the 1960s. He lead the League in hitting until the All-Star break, and in my eyes he was always a rock solid player and gave his all for the team. Alvis had a quote that was clearly the attitude of his generation. He said, “ Baseball is a service- oriented business, if you don’t serve your customer, someone else will.” He went on in life as a successful banker, maintaining his customer service philosophy!

2nd Base: Duane Kuiper joined the Cleveland Indians, who drafted him in the first round of the 1972 January Secondary Amateur Draft. Kuiper is currently a five-time Emmy award-winning radio and television sportscaster for the San Francisco Giants. Along with former major league pitcher Mike Krukow, he forms the broadcast duo known as "Kruk and Kuip." 
1st Base: Vic Power Teammate Mudcat Grant called Power " of the best-fielding first basemen of all-time," and I'd have to agree. Playing in the 1950s, Power was, and remains, one of the most exceptional hitters and fielders of all time. My mom and all fans loved him and cheered Power every time he stepped onto the field. I still remember my mother’s cheer for Power, a resounding “Come on VICTOOOOOR!”

Left Field: Minnie Minoso was signed by the Cleveland Indians as an amateur free agent in 1948. He was the most charismatic player I ever witnessed. Also, Minoso engaged the fans and was one of the most excellent and exciting players of his time.

Center Field: Vic Davalillo was a super leadoff hitter. He was very involved with the Greater Cleveland community and was a great leader; sure to get the game started on the right track.

Short Stop: Woodie Held was another of my heroes in the 1950s. He was solid; never flashy. He was a great leader – for the team – and for the community.

Outfield: Joe Charboneau was named Rookie of the Year in the late 1970s, yet he had to win his job back on the team. With that, he lost confidence. But he stood by the Greater Cleveland community and will always remain a major player and hero in my book.

Manager: Mike Hargrove led his team to five consecutive AL Central Division titles in 1995–99, and World Series appearances in 1995 and 1997. His dismissal as Indians manager by GM John Hart was controversial with many fans, and to this day, Cleveland adores him. He maintains a home here, even though he was born in Texas.

Baseball (all sports, actually) is a business, perhaps today, more than ever. It's not enough to be a good player. The best of the best contribute to the team and for the team. Those who succeed beyond expectations work hard, accept defeat with grace and then get up, dust themselves off, and start again. People who excel in business are cut from the same cloth as sports stars. I'm sure that's why there are so many analogies to sports in business.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

WHO'S WORKING? This week, Bob talks about what works to make work more workable in summer.

How can employees stay motivated when it's 80-plus degrees, sunny and the pool or the golf course is calling? It's no secret that, for most of us, the temptation of a day at the beach makes it difficult to focus on work in the office in the summer.

But, through the years I've seen employees who work even harder in the summer. These are the same people who are anxious to move ahead and want to be recognized for their hard work. They use summer as the time to shine in the workplace. You can bet, during slow times, an industrious employee will be noticed!

These summer success stories have several things in common. They're self-starters who stay motivated, despite the weather. They diligently make daily "To Do" lists; they take short 15-minute summer breaks from the workday so they don't feel cheated out of summer fun (something as simple as a midday break for ice cream with an office mate); they'll suggest an outdoor meeting with a quick, written agenda to make sure the job gets done, while enjoying the summer air; or they'll take a short break to walk around outdoors, de-stress, and come back rejuvenated.

But, honestly I believe the obligation of employee summer motivation should be firmly in the employers' court. It surprises me when someone will say, "I can't believe productivity fell as low as it did this summer." My guess is they didn't prepare for the inevitable short-hot-summer-with-lots-to-pack-in before... (kids are back in school, Labor Day, leaves fall, you name it). Business leadership consultant and author Randy Harrington nails some employee incentives perfectly right here in a Fox Business News video where he discusses several ways to keep employees motivated in summer.

I also have several favorite management tips to maintain motivation during summer's heat:
A Simple High-Five -- We generally recognize individual achievement during our monthly meetings and make a special effort at our annual luncheon. Food always works. If there's a great team effort, reward them with an outdoor lunch or pizza at a local restaurant. Themed lunch menus for employees, like Mexican Month, have really taken off this summer.

Goaltending -- Set individual goals for the team, but make sure it's within reach and everyone can participate. It creates an atmosphere of healthy, competitive fun.

Condition the Air -- You’d be surprised how hard employees will work when they feel welcome and appreciated. At Shamrock, we create a positive atmosphere of acceptance, camaraderie and unity, so that employees feel motivated to do a great job.

Remember when you were a kid? How much fun it was to get up each summer morning and anticipate the day? Think of some simple ways to help your employees hold on to that anticipation of a fresh, new day. Surprise your crew with a 5PM Happy Hour. Offer the staff a healthy lunch every day the temperature goes above 90. Create some fun! After all, it's a short, sweet summer.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

ARE YOU SIRIUS? This week, Bob offers tips on how to ramp up for business during the summer slump.

I got curious about why this time of year is called the "Dog Days of Summer", so I did what anyone who's curious does. I went to Google and found that the "Dog Days" are named for Sirius, the dog star that's brightest from early July through early September, when the heat of summer gets the best of us in the northern hemisphere. Webster's Dictionary refers to the Dog Days as a period of stagnation or inactivity. For various reasons, this period of stagnation or inactivity also occurs in business. People are on vacation, kids are home from school, and many businesses, whether intentional or not, tend to go into a more relaxed mode.

Business may work at a slower pace, so this may also be an ideal time to prepare for the upswing that occurs after Labor Day. Smart business thinking may be to use this time for things that fall by the wayside during the busier months; like employee training, updating websites, working on branding and other internal but important stuff that gets cast aside when business is humming.

Here's a short list to go from Sirius-ly slow to stimulating business during the Dog Days of Summer:
  • Dive Into Social Media - I -- If you've just dipped a business toe into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media, go head first, full-on in. Set up your social media campaign for fall 2012 before it gets buried for another year. Check out some of the tools that make management of your social media easier, such as HootSuite or Roost. Need help? Call on an expert to get you started. Shamrock has a great team, in case you want to get it right, from the start.
  • Dive Into Social Media - II -- Have your sales and marketing people check out Twitter and Facebook to see what your competition is doing, or to see what customers are saying about your company. Connect with your LinkedIn sources and give them a "first look" at what's happening at your company. Invite discussion with LinkedIn network sources.
  • Phone It In -- The telephone still is, and always will be, a good resource for sales. Call a prospect. Ask how their summer is going. Invite a prospect to a baseball game or a cookout. At worst, you may have to leave a voicemail message just to say you're thinking of them.
  • Hit One Out of the Park -- Networking is ongoing, regardless of the weather. The venue may change from a meal with potential customers at a warm and cozy restaurant to a neighbor's backyard barbeque, but summer's no reason to stop networking. Help your employees to have a good elevator pitch about your company -- and reward them for a homerun. A summer contest for best networking ideas can easily pump up the energy at work.
  • Steam Up Your Website -- Often overlooked when work gets crazy, websites can get tired-looking quickly. Challenge your team to come up with ways to energize your website before the fall deluge sets in. Update your news link. Add a new blog post. Make people want to visit your new site!
  • Start a Summer Book Club -- Excite your sales team with a new sales book to get their juices flowing for fall. Zero Time Selling, High Profit Selling, SNAP Selling, are recent books on sales that have generated great reviews.

Enjoy what's left of summer. We all need a little R&R this time of year!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

HOT IN DALLAS. This week, Bob reports on the business climate in Dallas TX.

I'm not giving away any secrets by saying it's been a hot, hot summer. And, of course, it's hot in Dallas. But things are really heating up at Shamrock's Dallas office, thanks to the cool business strategies being lead by Dave Fechter, Shamrock's executive vice president of operations.

For the past nine months Dave's been recruiting a whole new sales team in Dallas. What was once a nice distribution center with zero sales presence has now become one of the hottest properties Shamrock owns, complete with 6 new sales reps who are geared up to sell everything Shamrock has to offer, from marketing and design to promotion to data management to telemarketing and, naturally, print and distribution.

Dave has recruited more than a handful of sales reps who've successfully proven that they have an entrepreneurial spirit and demonstrated their rarefied achievement to sell printing to a boat load of customers. Within the next couple of months, Dave hopes to recruit two more Shamrock reps in the Dallas market.

According to Dave, one big incentive for this powerhouse team is Shamrock's incentive package, which rewards entrepreneurship and hard work.

Dave also told me that another big selling point for the Dallas sales team is the cross-selling orientation at Shamrock's corporate headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. When Dave told them they'll have a chance to meet with every one of our Cleveland-based general managers and they'll learn from these successful people how Shamrock has helped them achieve their own personal growth, Dave said "...that was the deal clincher."

I'm proud to give a big "high-five" to Dave who, with this growth strategy in Dallas, has brought in almost 30 new customers from Dallas. These are customers who are now purchasing more than our printing expertise. They're buying our creative work, our telemarketing programs and much, much more. Yes. It's hot in Dallas. But it's also very cool!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

NOTHING PERSONAL: BUSINESS IN SWEDEN IS STRICTLY IMPERSONAL. This week, Bob looks forward to the Olympics countdown with a focus on the medal-winning Swedes.

Finally, I can grab a beer and get my fill of the global games of summer! The Olympics officially begin July 27th, and Sweden is set to compete in events ranging from Archery to Wrestling with a total of more than 20 events.

Here's an interesting fact I read on Wikipedia about Sweden and the Olympics: Sweden first participated in the Olympics at the inaugural 1896 Games, and has sent athletes to compete in every Olympics since, with one exception, the sparsely attended 1904 Summer Olympics. Sweden has earned medals at all Olympic games except for two, the 1896 Games and the 1904 Games. The only other nation having earned medals at every Olympic game since 1908 is Finland. In fact, the people of Sweden have a principle of “lagom” or doing things “just right” but not doing anything unnecessary.

So, are the people of Sweden as team-oriented in business as they are in sports?

According to Business Culture in Sweden, because the people of Sweden value community, egalitarianism and consensus-seeking, generally, in business, team spirit is important -- as long as the team follows the particular business' ideals. Ongoing buy-in for goals and objectives is highly important, so therefore, team meetings are often frequent and long.  And team members are accustomed to performing their individual tasks with little supervision from superiors. If there is too much supervision employees may see this as a lack of trust in their professional capabilities. I'd say team spirit is alive and well in Sweden.


Personal is Private
Overall, business etiquette in Sweden is more formal than in the U.S., but, less formal than some other countries. For example, upon meeting (unlike the U.S.), Swedes consider inquiry about a business associate's personal life to be, well, personal. So that discussions about home and family, as well as status and position, are usually not discussed.

The Art of Cards
Unlike some Asian countries that prefer business cards in their spoken language, Swedish business associates, who generally speak and understand English, have no problem with presenting a business card in English. But, Swedish business etiquette suggests protocol that includes taking a moment to study the card and then carefully placing the card in a wallet or briefcase. Never just take a business card and shove it in your pocket or write on it in front of others. That would be thought of as rude.

In America, we get brownie points for appearing confident in business. Not so in Sweden. In fact, the appearance of being somewhat reserved will earn you more respect than the appearance of being overly confident.

I'm not sure if I'll enjoy the games even more after researching some of the countries that will be in the summer Olympics, but I'll definitely be on the lookout to see signs of individual nationalism carry over   from business to sports etiquette among the individual teams during the summer games.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

THERE ARE NO CASUAL FRIDAYS IN GERMANY, BUT THERE IS MORE FREE TIME. This week, Bob talks about the differences in business attitudes between Germany and the U.S.

As we get closer to the Olympics, this month we decided our focus will be on other countries. Today, I'd like to focus on my observations and reading about Germany.

One major difference I've noticed is, like many countries overseas, employees in Germany are more serious in the workplace, but it seems when German employees leave work they really do leave work behind, and enjoy their free time minus the glances at cell phones and work-related email messages. Maybe they understand the work/life balance better than we do.

I recently read some research compiled by Norbert Hedderich, a professor of German at the University of Rhode Island. 

In the late 1990s, Hedderich interviewed German engineers working in the U.S. and Americans working in Germany. He wanted to see how the two cultures were perceived by one another, and the differences that may cause some friction. The following is a sampling of his findings. If you'd like to read more go to

The Americans interviewed indicated a more business-like atmosphere in the German workplace. Most Americans were quite surprised to see the lack of casual conversations about family and hobbies, which is so prevalent in the U.S. One American in a managerial position in Germany said, "...At home, I like the interaction with my team. Here, it doesn't seem possible. If I had this kind of relationship with team members in the U.S., it would be considered dysfunctional."  On the other hand, the more casual style of interaction among Americans was a pleasant surprise for the German employees. Germans also noted, with pleasure, a sense of welcoming into the culture and the feeling of having been made part of the group when working in the U.S.

Germans noticed more positive thinking and an upbeat attitude in the U.S. culture. One American said, "In Germany praise is the absence of criticism." Yet, in the U.S., Germans were confused when they were praised for what they thought were just routine tasks. Some of the German interviewees found that negative aspects of a particular assignment were not listed negatively, but were labeled as "items for improvement" or were dropped altogether. Reading several comments I got the feeling that German employees believe workers in America are "babied" rather than treated as responsible adults.

Most interviewees mentioned distinct differences, and some genuine friction, between Germans and Americans on the concept of pace vs. attention to detail. In the German firms, the planning process of a project tends to be long and very detail oriented.  The Americans thought Germans "...tested things to death."  On the other hand, a German personnel manager whose company had recently been purchased by a U.S. company said, "...The Germans plan far more thoroughly, whereas the Americans are content with having completed 80% of the planning."

Finally, when asked how Americans working in Germany should behave, the general consensus given by German employees was:
At Work:
  • Don't attempt to impose American ways. Try to take in what you experience without immediately making judgments.
  • Expect to work independently. You may see your supervisor less frequently than expected.

Outside of Work:
  • Don't take it personally if initially people seem distant and reserved. It may be as difficult for you to get used to this as it is for a German visitor to the U.S. when asked by a stranger "How are you?"
  • Since most Germans separate work and private lives more than Americans, don't count on getting together with colleagues after work. Instead, find people who share a common interest; join a club and from that, friendships will grow.

The above tips work well abroad. Even among companies in the U.S. there are localized and regionalized differences. A lot of these suggestions are also good when moving from one company to another. If fitting in with your new teammates is important, go slow. Analyze the lay of the land. Watch what others do and follow their lead. It's easier to accommodate local customs than attempting to change them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

WHAT IS IT ABOUT "TAKING ONE FOR THE TEAM" THAT BRINGS A SENSE OF OLYMPIAN-LIKE FULFILLMENT TO INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS? This week, Bob talks about the importance of the team vs. the individual in Japanese culture.

Naturally, there are some cultural differences between Asian countries, but all seem to believe in putting oneself second to the team, or group, for the betterment of all. I greatly admire that in Asian culture.

Japan is definitely among the Asian cultures that subscribe to the philosophy of the team vs. the individual. This is a good overview (Doing Business in Japan), but, in a nutshell, what's stressed within Japan's social and business etiquette is that teamwork and group cohesiveness are of great importance. In Japanese culture, the individual relies on the group for identity, and in business, the people place great emphasis on compromise and self-discipline for the sake of the team.

The Japanese, great proponents of teamwork, start with an advantage: their intellectual tradition isn't adversarial. Like the spirit of the Olympics, Japanese culture relies on the power of teamwork rather than an individual's reward to achieve its goals. Winning isn't a bad thing, but how one wins: with honor and respect for others, is very important.

Asian culture is packed with reverence for teamwork. The Gung Ho! business model is based on the fundamentals of two Chinese characters forming the word Gung Ho, which translates to "Work" and "Together." This approach, according to its author Ken Blanchard, "... focuses on sharing of information; aligning purpose, values, and goals of people and organization; frontline decision making responsibility; and celebration of successes..."—in other words, teamwork. Japan has survived many upheavals, including wartime destruction, natural and weather-related destruction, and financial crises by practicing the philosophy of "work together."

We also practice the theory of Gung Ho! at Shamrock, and I believe that, as a company, like our Asian counterparts, we have survived through various upheavals these last 30 years, mainly because we rely on the work (and intelligence) of the team over the pride of one individual.

Friday, July 6, 2012

WHAT CAN THE OLYMPICS TEACH US ABOUT BUSINESS? As a prelude to the upcoming Olympics, this month Bob explores global cultures.

There's a different kind of competition in business than in the Olympics. In business we're expected to make or earn money. We compete based on the best price for the best product. I believe the playing field is more level in sports. In sports, we compete for the joy of winning and the thrill of the game.

That said, in the past 30 years, since I started Shamrock, offshore business has grown considerably, and how we do business abroad has also changed. Now it's not only important to start the deal, we also need to know how to seal the deal. That means taking a crash course in different work ethics, habits and family life of companies we wish to partner with before we even think about doing business with them. Sort of like the Olympics of business deals.

According to several blog posts shared with me by Shamrock employees, here are what I consider to be important Rules of Engagement with China:

China, like many countries overseas, is much more formal in their business dealings than the U.S.
  1. Social Structure - In China the social structure is formal and hierarchical.  You know where you fit in the structure and you abide by the rules.  In America, it is much more loose and informal.  It's not uncommon to see those of various social levels socializing with one another.  This doesn't occur in China.
  2. Confrontation/Conflict - When conducting business in China or expecting an extended stay, it might be useful to know that the direct way that most Americans approach issues is not done in China.  Direct conflict or confrontation over issues is highly frowned upon.  Doesn’t matter that "the truth" needs to be spoken, respect and honor to each person supersedes "the truth".  
  3. You Will Get to Know Your Business Partners - When doing business in China, be prepared for a lot of socializing.  Business becomes secondary as the parties get to know one another better.  If it delays a contract, that is perfectly acceptable as long as the correct social time is taken care of.  In America, the business is more important than socializing, and socializing may be sacrificed to get the job done if necessary.  Though, it appears that now recognition for networking is becoming more important in our country, too.
  4. Downplay the Bravado - Humility is a practiced virtue in Chinese culture.  The success of one’s business or personal life is downplayed while in America successes are discussed with pleasure.  Most Americans in our fast business world consider humility a sign of weakness.  This can be an issue that hurts inter-cultural relations.  It's probably a good idea to err on the side of humility in the presence of business people in China.
  5. Be Sensitive to the Time Zone - Most Americans are very time sensitive when it comes to meetings and deadlines.  Time means different things in Chinese business culture. The Chinese do not view time as an absolute but more as a suggestion.  Concern is not expressed for a meeting starting late or ending at a different time.  The same can be applied to deadlines.  If a report is due on Friday, we would be waiting for that report in our hands before end of business day.  The Chinese would not worry if it showed up several days later. (This may be a very hard lesson for Americans to learn since it's so counterintuitive to our culture.)
While many cultural and political differences remain between the U.S. and China, we can all learn something from the dedication to strong family-oriented values, hard work and persistence that China uses to create smart business people. I believe that the more we know about our global counterparts the stronger we all will be in the global race for success.