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Saxbys Coffee – How treating your people right can lead to success

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on May 4, 2015

Attending the grand opening of the Saxbys cafe April 13 on Drexel University’s campus was a unique event. What made it unique is that the cafe is entirely managed and operated by Drexel undergraduate students. It has a different feel than its well-known competitor in the coffee business. The atmosphere is “millennial trendy” – from the decor, to the background music, to the willingness of the Saxby team members to engage in friendly conversation with customers, who are referred to within the Saxby culture as guests. There is no doubt that this Saxbys cafe will be a huge hit with the students on Drexel’s campus.

Nick Bayer, the CEO of Saxbys Coffee, hosted the grand opening along with two key Drexel leaders who helped make this student managed and operated cafe a reality – President John A. Fry and founding dean of the Close School of Entrepreneurship Donna De Carolis. Congressman Chaka Fattah was also present to help celebrate the grand opening. I was so impressed with Bayer’s focus on creating a great customer experience that I interviewed him to learn more about his leadership philosophy and his focus on his team members and guests.

I asked Bayer why he decided to pursue the idea of having a Saxbys cafe managed and operated by college students. He said, “I saw college students who were looking for entrepreneurial opportunities, I saw colleges embracing entrepreneurship, and I felt that I wanted to provide the experiential component.”

Bayer chose Drexel for this Saxbys’ cafe because of the University’s reputation for being on the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship. Bayer said that he received great support from the University on choosing the right location for the Saxbys cafe – a corner that borders the academic and residential part of Drexel’s campus that is passed by over a thousand students each day walking to and from class.

Bayer feels that Saxbys’ culture is the most important determinant of his company’s success. I asked Bayer, “How do you differentiate Saxbys – why do customers come to your cafes and buy coffee?” He said, “We compete on people, not on product. Most people think that we are in the product business – we are actually in the people business. I realized that I can compete [with other companies] on people and on hospitality. People are at the core of what we do – our team members and guests.”

Bayer continued, “I thought that if you take people who are smart, passionate and prideful, and give them the tools and wide enough boundaries, good things could happen. I want this to be a place where people want to work. Our culture is defined by our people not by a product.”

Bayer and his senior leadership team give significant support to their cafe managers. He said, “I personally am an absolute zealot of the mentality of ‘servant leadership.’ Organizations work best when they are upside down. Our cafe managers are the CEOs of the businesses. All the people at headquarters exist to serve our cafe managers and their teams. We are here to help them to be better at their jobs. My expectation of them is to be servant leaders to the members of their teams. Their job is to make life better for their guests every single day.”

On the subject of empowerment, Bayer said, “We hire people with good critical judgment and empower them to make decisions. Other employers take power away from their employees. I don’t want to get in the way. I want my people making decisions. I hire people who will develop a sense of ownership in their business.”

The first manager of Drexel’s Saxbys cafe was Meghan Regan, a pre-junior on a six-month co-op work assignment. After being trained as a manager at other Saxbys locations, she assumed her role as manager of the Drexel cafe while it was being constructed. She was responsible for marketing and promotion of the cafe and hiring the staff – all part-time Drexel students.

I asked Regan what she thought about the culture of Saxbys. She stated, “I think the culture is amazing. Every Saxbys I worked at [during my training] felt like home. People come first. Team members are friendly with their guests and get to know their names.” Regan said, “Guests don’t mind waiting in line for 20 minutes. We apologize and give them a free drink card or ask if we can get them a cookie to enjoy while they wait. We ask them how their day is going … we don’t want them to be bored while waiting in line.”

Kelsey Goslin, another pre-junior on her co-op work assignment, followed Regan as the second cafe manager of the Saxbys at Drexel. I asked Goslin what traits she looks for when hiring team members. She said, “Saxbys looks for people who are outgoing, detail oriented and disciplined, a core value of Saxbys. People come back for that atmosphere and want to interact with the team members who work there. We want to hire people who are positive in their outlook and are hard working.”

Goslin stated that as a co-op student, she had the same decision-making authority and was held to the same metrics as any other Saxbys cafe manager. Goslin feels that the management experience she is gaining as a college student is invaluable to her future career, and will differentiate her among other job seekers in the market.

Bayer’s leadership philosophy is somewhat different than that of the franchisee of the Popeyes restaurant in Channelview, Texas that I wrote about last week. Bayer’s philosophy however, is the same as we adopted when I was CEO of PQ Corporation, a capital-intensive manufacturing business. It guided our approach to continuous improvement and how we helped our customers be successful in their businesses, with great results.

So, what are the takeaways on how to build your business and differentiate it from the competition, regardless of the business that you are in? Hire people with strong interpersonal skills and with good critical judgment, empower them, and create a culture where the focus is on creating a great customer experience. Treat employees and guests, customers and clients like you would like to be treated. Lead employees like you would like to be led. The businesses that adopt these principles are the ones that will excel.

Stanley W. Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership, and serves as the leadership catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com

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How not to treat an employee – A lesson from a Popeyes franchisee

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on April 27, 2015

Columnists who write about effective leadership occasionally learn of an outrageous news story in which the principles that they write about are violated – an organizational culture that values employees, avoids reputational risk and values the exercise of good critical judgment by its leaders.

Last week, it was reported that a pregnant employee working as a manager for a Popeyes restaurant in Channelview, Texas, was fired because she refused to reimburse the restaurant for $400 taken in a robbery, during which she was held at gunpoint. The franchise owner of the restaurant claimed the employee violated policy by keeping too much cash in the register. She stated that it was a very busy day at the restaurant, and that “she had moved the money as fast as she could.”

So, she loses her job because she was doing her job – serving her customers on a very busy day, and taking in lots of cash due to high sales volume. One of my editors who works part-time in a restaurant once had a conversation with the owner about the culture he wants to cultivate in his organization. He stated, “I don’t own this restaurant. The customers and employees do.” How true – a sign of an effective leader.

After the news story went viral, Z & H Foods, owner of the restaurant, issued the obligatory apology, gave the fired employee back pay and offered her job back. Her response was that she is not sure she wants to work for this owner again. No one would blame her for feeling this way.

My first reaction after reading this story was that you can’t make this stuff up. Unfortunately, these types of situations occur all too often. Let’s take a look at three elements of the organizational culture that lead companies on a journey towards preeminence, and violated by this Popeyes franchisee:

Valuing employees

Restaurants are in the people business – hiring the right people to serve customers. Restaurants on a journey towards preeminence strive to provide a great customer experience, which gives them a significant competitive advantage and attracts lots of customers. To be successful on this journey, restaurants need to attract the best people, and treat them as valued employees, not disrespect them.

Asking the Popeyes employee to reimburse the restaurant for the stolen $400 was insulting and disrespectful. How does the franchise owner expect to hire great people to staff his restaurant when it becomes known that this is the way he treats his employees? Great employees treat their customers in a way that encourages them to return to the restaurant. Employees will not act in this way towards customers if they are disrespected by their managers and are not happy employees.

After reading the news story, one wonders the degree to which the employees at this Popeyes restaurant trust the restaurant owner and are loyal to him, are empowered to make decisions and feel a sense of ownership in what they do. This is the type of organization that people want to work in and develop professionally. One gets the sense that the Channelview Popeyes restaurant is not that type of organization.

Avoiding reputational risk

In today’s world of social media, a reputation built over the years can be tarnished in minutes. Perhaps the Channelview Popeyes owner did not realize that blaming and then punishing his employee would generate such a negative response on social media. Not only did he embarrass himself and his own restaurant, he embarrassed all restaurants within the Popeyes chain.

The CEO of Popeyes Corporation needs to establish the right organizational culture, and ensure that all franchisees embrace it down through their respective organizations. The front line employees that serve customers day in and day out are key to the success of the company. Popeyes’ reputation rides on the customer experience that these employees provide.

Exercising good critical judgment

It is obvious that this Popeyes franchisee did not exercise good critical judgment when he fired the employee. One of the most important attributes to look for when bringing on a franchisee and when hiring employees is to ensure they will exercise good critical judgment. When a decision is not clear cut, individuals with good critical judgment will tend to make the right decision.

People with good critical judgment and a sense of self-confidence will violate company policy in the rare instance when the decision will save the company money or protect its reputation. When this occurs, these employees should be celebrated.

What can all leaders learn from this unfortunate event at the Popeyes restaurant in Channelview, Texas? Establish a strong culture throughout your organization that respects employees. Empower them to make decisions. Protect the company’s reputation. Associate yourself and hire people with good critical judgement. The success of your business depends on it.

Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He serves as the leadership catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com

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How Pennsylvania can become the preeminent place to live and work

Pennsylvania and Philadelphia must focus on infrastructure, energy, education and entrepreneurship.

In 2014, Pennsylvania ranked 37th in economic performance and 33rd in economic outlook, according to the Alec-Lifer State Economic Competitive Index. In the Forbes Best States for Business List, Pennsylvania was ranked 30th. This is a third quartile performance in all three measures.

The ability of Pennsylvania to improve to first quartile economic performance depends on our state’s ability, as well as that of our largest City, Philadelphia, to create an environment that encourages existing businesses to stay and grow here, encourages new business formation, and encourages people to choose our state and City as places they want to live and work.

I believe there are four ways for Pennsylvania and Philadelphia to accomplish this:

Transit & Energy

Many of our roads and bridges in Pennsylvania are in need of major repair or replacement. This investment cannot be avoided, and must not be delayed. The longer these projects are delayed, the more expensive they will be. Ignoring this infrastructure will eventually impede the distribution of goods and services, and adversely impact quality of life. These projects provide high-paying jobs and will have an excellent long-term return on investment.

Continued development of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale natural gas is an imperative. It has already resulted in the creation both directly and indirectly of thousands of high-paying jobs and lower costs to heat our homes and run our factories, putting more money into other parts of the economy, stimulating economic growth, resulting in job creation.

Through the development by the oil and gas industry of fracking and horizontal drilling technology, as well as continued development of solar and wind technology, the U.S. will become energy self-sufficient by the end of this decade. Building off of Philadelphia’s existing energy infrastructure, our City has the potential of becoming the East Coast Energy hub, favorably impacting our state and local economy.

Energy development and the need to protect the environment are not mutually exclusive. The technology exists to do both. Rigorous monitoring is needed to insure all environmental laws are obeyed. Protecting the environment is an important focus in oil and gas production, transportation, processing and distribution.

Improve Education

The state of public education in Philadelphia will prevent the City from achieving preeminence. Due to the drain of funds by charter schools, the school district has reduced spending to the point where it has impacted the quality of education of our children. Funding of the Philadelphia school district and how charter schools are funded is an issue that needs to be addressed.

The school district also needs to hold its administrators accountable for providing the best leadership possible at every level. Administrators need to be held accountable for the performance of their principals. Principals need to be great leaders and role models. They need to be held accountable not only for the education of their students, but also for how effectively they lead and inspire their teachers. Principals also need to be held accountable for the tone at the top and the organizational culture they establish within their respective schools. Ineffective administrators, principals and teachers need to be replaced. They should not be protected. They shortchange our students.

Teacher unions need to be treated as full partners in the improvement of the education of our children. Their members are on the front line every day, some teaching in very difficult conditions. One of the things business leaders learn early on is that the best performing organizations have nurtured a culture in which their employees are empowered and feel a sense of ownership in what they do. Schools are no different.

Attract Business

My association with the Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University and its students, as well as with a number of startups in Philadelphia has convinced me that entrepreneurship is a very important driver of economic activity in the region. Philadelphia is a place to be for young college students to stay after graduation to launch their businesses. To keep them here, we need to ensure that the business environment and quality of life is attractive to them.

In an article that appeared in the Philadelphia Business Journal on Dec. 1, 2014 headlined “Educational ecosystem is driving Philadelphia entrepreneurship,” I wrote “Philadelphia’s stature as a major hub for entrepreneurial activity will only grow in the future, and its educational ecosystem for entrepreneurs will play a key role. We want entrepreneurs to recognize that this is where they can learn needed skills, tap advice and expertise, start their business and grow them. Few initiatives will have a greater impact on the health and vitality of the region.”

Our state and City need visionary leadership by government, business and labor leaders. Courage is sometimes needed to break old paradigms. I would like to see Pennsylvania and Philadelphia become preeminent places to live and work. I think we are moving in the right direction, but with much to be done.

Stan Silverman is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth, as well as vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, and authors a weekly column on effective leadership in the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com

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The VA investigation – Can the agency provide our veterans with a great customer experience?

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on April 20, 2015

Last week, the Veterans Affairs Inspector General issued a damming 78-page report on an investigation started 10 months ago into the operation of the Philadelphia office of Veterans Affairs. The types of problems identified in this report were consistent with those found in other VA offices across the country that were made public last year.

Nine months ago, Robert McDonald, the former chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble and a successful leader from the private sector, was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the new secretary of Veterans Affairs to fix the widespread failures of his predecessors and to improve the customer experience of our veterans when dealing with the VA.

The Inspector General’s report on the VA Philadelphia office indicated that among other issues, over 31,000 inquiries by veterans to the Philadelphia call center went unanswered for an average of 312 days, records were falsified regarding the backlog of claims, quality reviews were altered and staff received credit for uncompleted training. Serious instances of mismanagement and employees’ mistrust of VA managers were uncovered. Our veterans deserve better than this.

Allison Hickey, the VA’s under secretary for benefits, has indicated that management and other changes have already been made at the Philadelphia VA office to improve operations and the level of service to veterans, and that the Inspector General’s report identified issues prior to these improvements.

Let’s go back prior to the confirmation of McDonald as the new VA secretary and prior to the management, system improvements and cultural changes he is implementing, and ask: Why was the VA mired in disarray? Let’s compare the difference between private sector companies and government organizations.

Companies operating in the private sector, whether they are publically or privately owned, need to provide a return to their shareholders. Most operate in a competitive environment. The more effectively the leaders of private sector companies operate their businesses and delight their customers, the higher the return to shareholders. Great companies strive to reach a level of preeminent customer experience, which differentiates them from competition and permits these companies to grow their market share because customers want to deal with them.

To experience a preeminent customer experience, all one has to do is visit an Apple Store. In addition to being driven by the need to provide a return to shareholders and the need to compete in the marketplace, Apple had one advantage that is rare with other companies – the visionary leadership of someone like Steve Jobs, who created a preeminent customer experience culture.

The senior leadership teams of successful private sector companies focus on tone at the top and nurturing the right institutional culture, as well as hiring and developing the most effective leaders who engender the trust of their employees. These leaders create an environment in which their employees develop a sense of ownership in what they do, and they inspire their employees to achieve great results.

Effective leaders encourage their employees to break their paradigms, embrace the philosophy of continuous improvement and empower their employees to pursue these improvements. The most successful private sector companies strive to be the best in the world at what they do, a journey that never ends. This is what the VA needs to do.

The VA and other government organizations, however, do not have stockholders which hold management accountable for generating great results, and do not have competition driving them to continually improve their operations and how they treat their customers. Most leaders of government organizations do not get the type of training or experience that leaders get in the private sector, and are not exposed to the mindset of leading private sector companies.

As secretary of Veterans Affairs, McDonald has a huge job ahead of him. He needs to bring to the VA a mindset that private sector companies have that drive the journey to preeminence, without having the imperatives of meeting stockholder expectations and going up against competition. Not only does he need to fix the current issues facing the VA, but also to understand which managers need to be replaced, introduce and change attitudes, and nurture a new culture at the VA. This will take time. Our veterans as well as anyone else who deals with the VA deserve a preeminent customer experience.

Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership, and serves as the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com

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Hey CEOs – Think like an activist investor

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on April 16, 2015

The CEOs of many public companies raise their guard when they receive a phone call from an activist investor wanting to discuss how a company can improve its performance and shareholder return. This is not necessarily the right reaction.

Activists invest in underperforming companies and push for improved shareholder return through cost reduction, a change in business strategy, a leadership change or the pursuit of strategic options. If shareholder return cannot be improved through other means, the activist might push for outright sale of the company or one or more of its operating units.
If unsuccessful in convincing the CEO and board to implement their proposals to increase shareholder return, an activist may pursue one or more board seats, and threaten a proxy fight to seat their own director slate. All outside directors have a fiduciary duty to be independent, even if nominated by an activist and seated through a proxy fight. These directors need to make their own independent decisions based on what is best for the shareholders after board deliberation, not what is best for the activist who nominated them.

Some activists are interested only in making a quick return, with no interest in the potential of a company to generate much higher returns for its shareholders over the long term. This adds to the pressure of companies to sacrifice the long term in favor of shorter-term quarterly results. The interests of short-term oriented activists may not be in the best interests of most of the company’s shareholders. Other activists are in it for the long term as are many shareholders, and their proposals need to be heard and if valid, seriously considered.

Dealing with activists who are adversarial is a distraction to the CEO and to the board, and takes time and focus away from the business. A proxy fight impacts the CEO’s reputation as well as that of the board. So, how do you lessen the likelihood that your company becomes an activist target?

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Strengthening Your Leadership Culture While Delivering Feedback For Improvement

As a leader, one will occasionally have the need to deliver feedback that is critical of a team member or even the entire team. In doing so, two outcomes are most likely. One outcome has the capacity to hurt morale for the entire team. The other actually builds on the message and strengthens both the team member’s contribution to the entire team as well as the overall result from the team itself. Although criticism is negative, conveying its message properly should become a positive experience in an effective leadership culture.

As the leader, you are also the team’s coach. Ultimately leaders and coaches want to build up their teams. They do not want to browbeat them and create an angry, finger-pointing environment. Their hope is to change behavior in a positive way that enhances how the individual contributes to the success of the team in the future. When a weak link gets stronger, it strengthens the entire team.

For best results, it is of paramount importance to understand how an associate or team will hear your feedback. Look at it through their eyes. Therefore, what language and tone might you use to turn this into a positive coaching experience. Recognize that the person in question most probably feels as if they are trying as hard as they can, even though they are less effective than they should be. They may even feel, rightly or wrongly so, that other factors have contributed to the experience.

Here are some valuable tips for delivering feedback:

– Be unemotional when you deliver negative feedback. If you are emotional, take time to collect yourself and then deliver the message.

– If possible, confront the person in private where it’s just one-on-one. Never cast blame publicly.

– Keep the feedback focused on the specific act in question. Rarely use terms like “you never do this” or “you always do that” which tend to generalize or trivialize your message.

– If the entire team needs to hear the feedback, cast the blame publicly but in a way that is broader so everyone shares in the negative message, as well as the positive solution. Together, discuss how to improve and get everyone ultimately to own the solution.

– Before criticizing, try to gather as much information as possible from the person in question. In other words, get them talking about what happened and why they made the decision they did. They may have made the wrong decision, but they might also have been right (and you might learn something!), under the circumstances.

– Without casting blame publicly, turn the experience into a training exercise so that everyone can learn from the feedback.

True, there are times when negative feedback must be personal, especially when there is the need to coach individual improvement – anything from poor listening skills, a lapse in manners, speaking loudly and more. But most of the time, one person’s error or misjudgment can actually serve as an opportunity for a positive, teachable moment that can help everyone feel good about themselves and their contribution towards helping the team move forward.


Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com

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How to evaluate the boss: CEOs should be measured by more than financials

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on April 6, 2015

When boards evaluate the annual performance of their CEOs, the areas assessed are most often focused on those metrics that drive shareholder value, such as growth in revenues, cash flow and earnings, as well as annual and multi-year operational and strategic goals. Goals are established by the board and their CEO at the beginning of the year, and at the end of the year, results are measured against those established goals.

Evaluated less often are leadership traits of the CEO. Unlike performance against numerical goals, these are more subjective and harder to assess, but very important to the long-term success of the company. The assessment of the following traits should be part of every CEO performance review:

Establishes a clear vision and mission for the organization

If you don’t know where you are going, you can’t get there, and without a clear vision and mission, the long-term goals of operating and staff units down through the organization will not be aligned. The process of establishing a clear vision and mission is just as important. CEOs should be evaluated on the extent to which they involve their senior leadership team, so the team develops a sense of ownership and commitment to the vision and mission, and they know what roles they play in achieving them. Just as important, the senior leadership team can communicate this role down through their respective units.

Continue reading on The Business Journals.

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Building a strong Philadelphia tech community is the passion of this leader

Leaders emerge in transformational situations, and play an important role by enabling that transformation to take place. Such a leader is Christopher Wink, co-founder and editor of Technical.ly / Philly, an online news and events organization covering the burgeoning entrepreneurial tech community in the Philadelphia region.

Technical.ly / Philly differentiates itself by filling a void. Wink and Technical.ly co-founder Brian Kirk saw that the tech entrepreneurial community in Philadelphia was disconnected. There was no vehicle to enable people who had similar interests to learn about each other, so they launched Technical.ly to pull together the disparate areas of the tech community to make it stronger. Technical.ly does this through reporting on the news and people within the community. Wink and Kirk also saw a void in Brooklyn, Delaware, Baltimore and Washington D.C. and they have expanded their firm to cover the tech community in these locations.

The lifeblood of any firm within the entrepreneurial tech community is its ability to source intellectual property from other firms, and use it to build its products or develop its services. Technical.ly helps nurture this capability by helping firms connect with each other, exposing them to the capabilities of other tech firms within the community and what they are developing. Synergies emerge, and this strengthens the tech community and helps it move forward.

In April of each year, Technical.ly / Philly convenes Philly Tech Week to give people who identify with the tech community a chance to meet and discuss issues important to them. More than 100 events will take place this year from April 17-25. Technical.ly organizes more than 15 of the large anchor events during the week, including the large outdoor event on April 15 at Dilworth Park. Technical.ly partners with other firms on another 20 events, while some 70 other events are run by various technical and entrepreneurial groups within the Philly tech community. In the five years since Philly Tech Week was launched, attendance has grown from just over 1,000 to an expected 24,000 this year. Wink stated, “Philly Tech Week events each year represent a time capsule of the state of the tech community in Philadelphia.”

When asked about the entrepreneurial business model that is being created in Philadelphia and throughout the U.S., Wink said, “The 20th century economic development model was to grab big firms and court them away with tax incentives. The new economic development model is a lot of churn and burn volatility – one or two person companies, maybe they will succeed, maybe they won’t. Three kids in a basement … [working on an app] – three years later they have 10 people working for them.” Wink does not like for Philadelphians to dwell on where we rank on the lists of “best cities.” He stated that “our goal should be a better version of ourselves.”

I asked Wink about the mindset of entrepreneurs who are serial starters – those who move on to start new companies. He stated, “The day [when it’s time to move on from] …Technical.ly / Philly … we say, ‘Hey, we did great work, we are proud of what we did.’ When someone says they are stepping away from their business, instead of saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ say, ‘Cool, what’s next?’ Many people are labeled by their view of whether the glass is half full or half empty. I ask, ‘What did you learn about the glass, let’s get another one.’” This is the positive, proactive attitude of successful people who see an abundance and not a scarcity of opportunities and possibilities, and who are out to change the world.

Steven Tang, president and CEO of University City Science Center, stated, “Chris is a vital asset to our innovation and entrepreneurship community. His vision and strategy for Technical.ly / Philly has strengthened our start-up community since its inception. This is symmetrical beauty that Technical.ly / Philly, a start-up company in its own right, has covered and magnified Philadelphia’s start-up community. It’s the ultimate ‘pay it forward’ success!”

At the end of my interview with Wink, I asked what matters to him, and why. He paused, and after much introspective thought said, “My life is easier because of the people before me, and the lives of people before me were made a lot easier because of the people before them. I am part of a Philadelphia community, a journalism community, a technology community. I want to make the communities that I am a part of better, and have fun while doing it. I want to make a difference.”

Wink is a passionate driving force for tech entrepreneurship in Philadelphia. He is fulfilling what is important to him – and he is making a difference.

Stanley W. Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.

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How to get the ultimate competitive advantage

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on March 24, 2015

Recently I had a great customer experience at the Apple store on Walnut Street in Philadelphia – one that I would rate as the gold standard for any business that wants to create a competitive advantage.

I had purchased an iPhone 6 for my wife online, and wanted to buy her a protective case for her new phone. When I entered the store, I was greeted by Apple specialist Carol Rabuck, who after personally showing me available phone case choices, asked if I would be interested in trying Apple Pay to purchase the case. She set up my own iPhone 6 to do so.

After Rabuck showed me how to enable a number of features on my iPhone, I left the store with a feeling that I was treated with patience and respect, and that she was genuinely interested in helping me. Whenever I call Apple for tech support, my customer experience is the same as my experience with Rabuck. I get to speak to someone on the phone at Apple who cares, understands the issue I am calling about and effectively addresses it in a timely manner. This is a much more satisfying experience than when I call for tech support help for my PC laptop.

The leadership at Apple recognizes that their products and service are customer service intensive. In addition to being in the core business of providing personal computers and mobile communication devices, Apple is also in the core business of providing a great customer experience. Their goal is preeminence. They get it right. Other companies in customer service intensive businesses do not.

Continue reading on The Business Journals.

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The extraordinary story of an entrepreneur out to make a difference

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on March 16, 2015

On rare occasions, one meets an individual whose passion is driven by wanting to make a real difference in this world, and is on a journey to do so.
Last March, I meet such an individual on my trip to Silicon Valley with Donna De Carolis, the founding dean of Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship, her staff and 16 of her students. One of those students was entrepreneur Collin Cavote, at the time a Drexel junior, and founder and CEO of Biome, a firm whose mission is to improve the quality of the air that we breathe.

Biome is developing a modular biowall consisting of various types of plants that can be hung in homes and offices. In addition to the esthetics that a biowall provides, plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, refreshing the environment. Research by NASA has indicated that plants also serve as purifiers by absorbing toxins in the air.

To uncover the root of his passion, I asked Cavote, “What matters to you, and why?” He paused for a moment and then shared his journey. A number of years ago, Cavote left Temple University and “went off the grid” to explore minimalist living. He states, “I was studying business, … [but] I really didn’t see people creating legitimate value. Society was using up resources, creating a high social and environmental cost. I didn’t want to contribute to that.”

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5 questions to ask when hiring a CEO

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on March 9, 2015

As a former CEO and as a current director and trustee on a number of boards, I am asked to interview candidates for senior leadership positions at for-profit and nonprofit organizations. By the time I am asked to interview a candidate, they have gone through the vetting process regarding their skills, experience and the results they have achieved during their careers. Therefore, I focus on five questions that reveal a lot about an individual’s value system and leadership style, which based on my experience indicates a lot about whether the candidate will be effective and successful.

If you are the interviewer of a candidate for a senior leadership position, ask these questions. If you are the candidate being interviewed, decide how you would respond to them.

  • What does tone at the top mean to you, and what tone will you set for your organization?
  • What is the corporate or institutional culture you will nurture within your area of responsibility?
  • When hiring direct reports, what attributes do you look for, and how will you search for and select the very best people to work for you?
  • How would you describe your leadership style?
  • How will you lead, motivate and inspire every employee within your organization to achieve great results?

Tone at the top

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Silverman: A lesson in the power of networking

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on March 2, 2015

The power of networking came into sharp focus for me a few weeks ago when I was able to introduce a student of the Pennoni Honors College of Drexel University to a C-suite executive at eBay. I was able to assist this student only through a chain of events that started a year ago. One break in this chain and the introduction would not have occurred.

After speaking with a group of Pennoni Honors College students at a “lunch and learn” event on how to develop into effective leaders as their careers progress, one of the students introduced herself and shared her goal to work in Silicon Valley in the area of communications and marketing after graduation. She asked me if I knew anyone who might be able to help her achieve her goal. I immediately thought of an executive (and Drexel alum) at eBay who I met last March on my trip to Silicon Valley with Donna De Carolis, founding dean of the Close School of Entrepreneurship, her staff and 16 of her students. Had I not gone on that trip, the introduction would not have occurred.

On that trip to Silicon Valley, I witnessed the drive and energy of De Carolis, her staff and Drexel’s Close School students, and met numerous entrepreneurs starting new businesses and pushing the boundaries of what was thought to be possible. Had I not gone on that trip, I would not have been inspired to start writing a column on effective leadership in the Philadelphia Business Journal, which was at the time a new endeavor for this board member and former CEO.

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