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The Opportunity to Listen (and Learn)

Over the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a number of amazing speakers at conferences. Each speaker had a great message tailored to the audience and each offered a look into their area of expertise; offering advice that was meaningful and relevant to the industry audience that was listening.

At a conference held earlier this year I listened to keynote speaker Ron Insana, award-winning journalist, financial analyst, commentator and author. His ability to examine and offer analysis of past and current world events, be they political or business, that have shaped or shape the decisions made by politicians, businesses and individuals was amazingly insightful. Ron spoke of how those in attendance could also look at those same events to determine the direction that we lead our respective companies. I had the opportunity to spend time with him at breakfast prior to his keynote and his engagement and interaction with those of us at the table provided a great experience.

I attended a conference in May that had a number of great speakers. One was Brad Grossman, Chairman and CEO of Zeitguide. Zeitguide was founded in 2009 and provides a unique view into our ever-changing world. Zeitguide utilizes people from around the globe to “find, filter and focus” on the abundance of information that exists to provide context to all that is going on today. More importantly, Zeitguide provides crucial understanding as to what is going to happen in the future that will determine the direction an industry make take. Mr. Grossman’s talk was as inspiring as it was insightful.

Another speaker at this conference was James Spellos, President of Meeting U. Mr. Spellos talked about the importance of technology and how technology is driving or should be driving your business to the greatest success imaginable. His discussion of the use of existing and innovative technology was highly entertaining. Spellos mentioned a former Google CEO’s quote, “we create as much information in two days now as we did from the dawn of man through 2003”.  As he walked through the audience answering questions posed to him he was offering countless suggestions and ideas to more effectively use information, technology and devices, but wisely.

At a conference in June the keynote speaker was Sheryl Connelly who, for the past decade has been Ford Motor Company’s Futurist. What does a futurist do? By definition she’s looking for trends. What events, conditions or insights that can be gleaned by scouring the globe for what’s happening now that helps Ford be a leader in its industry for the very long-term. For Ford, Ms. Connelly’s insight provides them another view into the strategy they could follow, the shape of the design of their vehicle platform that will find the greatest acceptance in the market and the products or technologies that will be offered in Ford vehicles well into the future. She’s not looking at the auto industry to determine the future but the social, technological, economic, environmental and political events (or “steep” as she terms it) that will affect our lives in the next 10 to 20 years. Ms. Connelly’s talk gave me a different way to think about what I could be looking at to determine what could affect my future.

At a recent conference this month I had the opportunity to listen to Bernie Brenner, author of The Sumo Advantage and Co-Founder, Chief Strategy Officer of TrueCar, Inc. He spoke of the importance of business development (BD) in the future of any business, regardless of size, to drive strategy and indirect revenue (future revenue). He offered ideas to utilize BD to form strategic partnerships with industry heavyweights that can help build and sustain your company’s growth. Bernie’s directness and openness at the conference, in his presentation and while interacting with attendees, was both refreshing and inspirational.

Next month I’m attending an industry conference where the keynote speaker will be David Robinson (The Admiral), a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, a U.S. Navy veteran, an outstanding player in the NBA (1989-2003), a humanitarian and a partner in a private equity firm (Admiral Capital Group). I’m looking forward to hearing him detail his experiences and advice on how to achieve success in business and life.

If you have an opportunity to attend an industry conference don’t miss out on listening attentively to the keynote speakers. They typically have amazing backgrounds and experiences to share. Each speaker I listened to this year offered insight which I could use to improve myself in both my business and in my personal life. So I would highly recommend that when given the chance to register and attend conferences in your industry do so. Then take the time to listen to those that the conference organizers have selected to speak. They’ve been chosen to speak for a reason. I’ve found them to always have great messages.

Just sayin’.

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20 Years Ago

Twenty years ago today the United States subsidiary of Belron International Ltd. (Belron) operating under the trade name of Windshields America (WA) merged with Joe Kellman’s U.S. Auto Glass (USAG)/Globe Glass & Mirror (GG&M) companies to form a company named Vistar. The second and third largest automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) businesses merged on February 26, 1996. If memory serves me WA had 274 stores in 43 states and the retail arm of Kellman’s two companies, GG&M had approximately 200+ locations in maybe 20+ states. USAG was the network call center arm of the business covering all 50 states. The merger provided Belron with a majority shareholding in Vistar, but management control fell to USAG/GGA. WA had annualized sales at the time of approximately $ 225,000,000+ and USAG/GG&A had annualized sales were approximately $ 200,000,000+ so as one sales totaled $ 425,000,000+ with approximately 500 store locations.

At the same time Safelite Auto Glass (SAG) was the largest AGRR company in the United States both in the number of stores and total sales. SAG had well over 500 stores and sales of approximately $ 500,000,000+. So if you had been able to combine the largest AGRR company together with the second and third largest AGRR company’s sales would have been over approximately $ 925,000,000 in 1996. A very tidy sum by anyone’s measure. The race was on two determine who could become the true market leader in the United States AGRR industry.

Lo and behold just two and one half years later on December 17, 1997 the shareholders of Vistar and SAG decided that they could achieve their market goals better together than apart so they agreed to merge. SAG at the time was owned by the Boston based private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners. When the merger took place Belron received the largest shareholding followed by Thomas H. Lee Partners and Joe Kellman. After the merger Vistar was absorbed by SAG with SAG and Thomas H. Lee Partners holding management control.

As you would expect, when in just 1 year 9 months 21 days the three leading companies in any industry merge, attempting to bring together three distinctly different cultures would be a big challenge. Especially when the largest and smallest shareholders of the new SAG didn’t have management control even though they had considerably more experience in operating AGRR companies than the shareholder with control. I’m not going to delve deeply into what happened next, but the newly formed company lasted just 2 years 5 months 23 days before heading into bankruptcy via a Security and Exchange Commission filing on June 9, 2000. As reported at the time a SAG spokesperson said,

“In papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware Friday, Safelite, based in Columbus, Ohio — with 500 U.S. locations — listed $ 559.2 million in assets and $ 591.4 million in debts. A spokeswoman for closely held Safelite, Dee Uttermohlen, said the Chapter 11 filing was related to a debt-load from an acquisition three years ago–but added that the company has been renegotiating debt with creditors.”1

So with that bit of historical background of the two mergers that took place in 1996 and 1997, along with the fallout from those mergers with the subsequent bankruptcy in 2000; I read with interest the 2015 financial results released by Belgium based D’Iteren n.v., majority shareholder of Belron International (and its subsidiary SAG). SAG’s 2015 sales, as per a SAG press release from February 3, 2016 (follow link), are $ 1,500,000,000 ($ 1.5 BILLION). That certainly sounds like a lot of sales doesn’t it?

Looking back to the total sales of WA plus USAG/GGA plus SAG in 1996 ($ 925,000,000+) and reading the sales that was reported today for SAG (remembering that the company now comprises WA, USAG/GGA and SAG) I found it surprising. Very surprising. DollarTimes.com calculates the value of a dollar in one year and adds the cost of inflation to determine that value to today’s dollar. Using the DollarTimes calculator you will find that $ 1.00 in 1996 would equate to a value of $ 1.54 today. The site shows an annual inflation of 2.18% or a total inflation of 54.09% over the past 20 years. When you calculate the 1996 value of $ 925,000,000, today’s value is worth $ 1,425,313,518. So when you look at SAG’s reported 2015 sales against the 1996 sales you see a real growth of 5.24%.

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There has certainly been a lot that has happened in the AGRR industry in the United States over the past 20 years. While SAG has faced a number of challenges over the past 20 years they have always come out somewhat unscathed. Bankruptcy, legislative issues, what have you they seem to always come out on top. But in real dollar growth they’ve seen a 5.24% increase in sales. Seems small doesn’t it?

But arguably there is a problem if you only look at the growth in sales dollars over the past 20 years. Sales figures really don’t take into consideration calculating the effect of the large increase in windshield repairs that existed in 1996 versus today. Nor does it take into consideration the price compression that was wrought on the industry in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s by the insurance industry. Determining what those two factors have in the calculation of real sales growth is difficult as it requires you to look at both the industry’s and SAG’s 1996 mix of products sales and customer versus that mix today. SAG and Belron unquestionably know what those factors mean to the performance of the company, but I’ll leave that for speculation and debate by you.

In my looking back over the past 20 years I’m taking a positive spin as you can see that today there are competitors both old and new that are busy chasing SAG. Be they local, statewide, regional or national competitors; there are countless companies working hard to take on SAG and its position in the AGRR space. There are AGRR retailers, alliances, networks, collision and glass companies, internet platforms chasing after consumers, insurers and commercial customers alike that need the services that the AGRR industry provides. Competition abounds and although it is always difficult to take the throne from the market leader, you’ve got to continue to try at the local, statewide, regional or national level if you want your company to find success in the industry with you’ve chosen to compete.

So when you look back 20 years ago to today at the AGRR industry and at what the landscape was like then versus what it is like today, what comes to my mind is a joke about a pony attributed to President Ronald Reagan.

“Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. Trying to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Yet instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to all fours, and began digging. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the psychiatrist asked. ‘With all this manure,’ the little boy replied, beaming, ‘there must be a pony in here somewhere.'”

I admit that I’m an eternal optimistic and I always see the pony in the room, but I think that opportunities abound for those who want to take on any leader in any industry. Never give up. Never.
Just sayin’.

 

1. Desert News article titled “Safelite Glass files for bankruptcy after listing $591 million in debts”

2. http://www.tomfishburne.com / http://www.marketcartoonist.com

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Credibility Leads to Success

It really doesn’t matter what it is you do in life, to find long-term success in your chosen field or business you have to have the skill set to adapt and find solutions to the problems you and your business face. To be able to continually build on successes and achieve goals that you’ve set for yourself, or those that your boss or board-of-directors have set for you and/or the business, is key to finding long-term success. That then earns you credibility.

 

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How do you achieve credibility? There are a lot of ways to do so, but as a mentor once told me years ago, that way was to “fulfill the promise”. “Fulfill the promise” meant delivering on the budgeted fiscal year revenue and EBITDA that we developed for the company. The person who told me that was the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a multi-national company and I reported to him as President and CEO of the U.S. division. He taught me a great business and life lesson.

By surrounding myself with a talented team of like-minded individuals, together we fulfilled the promise year after year. That gave us credibility. Credibility provided greater influence in moving the business forward. Credibility also provided us flexibility to pursue new business opportunities, money for acquisitions to further the growth of the company and to build innovative software solutions that provided us with greater success. The key is that you have to work continually to fulfill the promise. It’s not an easy task but it’s the only way secure the future for yourself and the team.

Ultimately when you establish credibility, gain influence and flexibility in what it is you do you will find that new opportunities abound. It really doesn’t matter what it is you do in your life, if you have credibility it speaks to the ability to inspire others.

“In government institutions and in teaching, you need to inspire confidence. To achieve credibility, you have to very clearly explain what you are doing and why. The same principles apply to businesses.”

Janet L. Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

When you have credibility you gain influence. Your ideas and views have greater meaning and weight, which will help shape the direction of the company that you work.

“Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers.”

Robin S. Sharma, Author

With credibility you also gain flexibility.

“What is clear is that business leaders must commit to champion change – to be transparent about their goals for change, to align their incentives systems to drive the change, and to make sure their work environments are flexible in a way that allows men and women who choose to work to be able to achieve all of their potential.”

Beth A. Brooke, Global Vice Chair – Public Policy, Ernst & Young

So working to gain and then maintaining credibility should serve you well in whatever endeavor you choose. Credibility is achieved when the actions you’ve taken allow others to believe in you as a leader.

Just sayin’.

 

EBITDA – earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization

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An Encounter with Jack Welch

This past Friday, while attending an automotive aftermarket conference (Auto Glass Week 2015); the keynote speaker was business icon Jack Welch. Instead of giving a speech, he answered questions from the audience for almost an hour and a half. Jack Welch in person is what I expected him to be. He’s certainly not afraid to answer any question asked and I found myself nodding and/or clapping to each of his answers. In a world of political correctness it was refreshing to know exactly what Jack’s position was on any question that he was asked.

Jack and Deb 10-2-2015

Photo Courtesy Auto Glass Week™ 2015

It didn’t matter whether the question was related to business, education or politics; he answered every question without hesitation. Jack’s view on business is all about winning. All about transparency. All about honesty. Telling those that worked for him when he was the CEO of General Electric for 84 consecutive quarters that the business they worked at needed to be either number one or number two in the world or figure out quickly how to become number one or two or the consequence would be that the business wouldn’t be a part of GE.

Jack isn’t big on tenure in education either. He believes that the customer should determine whether a professor or teacher is good or bad and whether they should stay or go. With the cost of education so high there is no room for mediocrity at Jack Welch Management Institute.

In politics Jack is a Republican.

After he took questions from the audience I had the opportunity to sit on an industry panel consisting of him, along with panelists from the automotive industry:

     Paul Heinauer, President of Glasspro Inc.

     Troy Mason, President of Technaglass

     Michael Schuch, president of XLNT Window Film Tinting

     Donna Wells, Vice President of Signature Shutters

     Ed Golda, president of Michigan Glass Coatings

Suzy Welch, renowned bestselling author, television commentator, Harvard Business School graduate and who also is Jack’s wife, was the moderator of the panel. It was an amazing experience where the panel answered questions posed by Suzy and the audience. Everyone answered questions including Jack and then he provided further commentary on the answers that were given.

Suzy Jack and panel

Photo Courtesy Auto Glass Week™ 2015

There isn’t much you can say about Jack Welch and Suzy Welch that hasn’t already been written so I won’t try. I can only say that the two of them make one heck of a team and are about as down to earth as you can be. In this day it was refreshing to see two people who didn’t hold back in answering questions.

It was an honor meeting them both and sitting on a panel with them was certainly an experience that I will never forget. Thanks to them both for the chance to spend a few hours with them last Friday. And thanks to Deb Levy for inviting me to join the panel.

Jack David and Suzy 10-2-2015

Just sayin’.

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