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Guiding Growth

For my money, the best regularly scheduled networking event in Dayton is the Dayton Chamber Breakfast Briefing.  Month after month, the series delivers top notch speakers, attracts a great cross section of community leaders, and offers a chance to break bread and sip coffee while enjoying the picturesque view from the top of the Kettering Tower.  Admittedly I am biased, as I am on the committee for this event.  Still, the reason I wanted to be on the committee was precisely because the event is so great. This past Friday, my feelings about the event were confirmed yet again, as Joni Fedders, President of Aileron, spoke to the crowd about the Fundamentals of Business.

For those who are not familiar with Aileron, it is the brain child of Clay Mathile – the entrepreneur who built the Iams Brand and later sold it to P&G.  He formed Aileron as a way to “help fuel private business and free enterprise, providing business owners with the tools and support they need to mature and succeed.” The company works with business owners to help them “lead and manage their companies, driving growth, innovation and jobs.” The company recently opened a new campus north of Dayton, where they conduct seminars and offer business leaders a quiet place to think, plan, and create.

So, getting back to the Breakfast Briefing, Fedders speech was very concise, yet was full of valuable information.  She walked through the elements of the basic model that Aileron uses to assess the health of a business.  I did my best to feverishly scratch out notes to capture her thoughts.   Here are some key take-aways from her presentation:

Professional Management – Aileron uses a term called “poof management” to describe the natural progression that often takes place as extremely talented technical performers suddenly find themselves in managerial roles.  Often that shift from doing to managing can be diffiAileroncult, and it is important to realize that great performers on one level are not always natural managers.

Business Life Cycle – According to Fedders, most businesses fail because of poor management.  She stressed the importance of properly aligning the business with where it is in its life cycle.  Early on, businesses tend to be more entrepreneurial – bouncing from opportunity to opportunity to pay the bills.  As time passes, management should begin to focus on areas of expertise.  She emphasized the importance of establishing a board of advisers from outside of the firm to assist in this planning on a quarterly basis.  She suggested that these meetings should be at least 75% forward focused – with discussion around working on the business and not in the business.

Leadership – Joni discussed the idea that a key function of leadership should be to set the vision and then create an environment to move the business in that direction.  She also stressed the importance of leading by example.  “If the leaders are late and sloppy, how do you think the employees will behave?”  She went on to discuss the idea that leaders should engage in continuous learning, should be pivotal in determining strategy, and should ultimately serve as “Keeper of the Culture.”

Strategy – Fedders spoke about the importance of utilizing a decision making process that looked at the following: 1.) Reality – what are they paying us for today  / tomorrow,  2.) Focus – Where is the market headed,  3.) Competency – can we do it?     These elements come together to build a framework for producing a successful strategy.

Mission – She moved quickly through this point, but basically it revolves around “what are you trying to accomplish.”  It is important to create and internalize a formal mission so that everyone is clear as to what the ultimate goal should be.

People Development – This goes much deeper than training.  Fedders stated that this is really about engaging people, and empowering them to become better.  She asserted that this is key in creating long term growth.

Culture – “The way we do things around here.”  The idea of culture is so important.  Joni spoke about both the stated culture of policies and procedures as well as the actual culture of norms and customs.  Culture should be a visible trait, and can be a powerful way to differentiate a company from its competition.

Structure – When speaking about this, Fedders suggested that structure should very closely follow strategy.  It is the idea of creating an org chart to match where the company is planning to go.  Then finding the right people to fill the boxes on the chart.

Control – Lastly, Joni addressed the importance of control or measurement.  She stressed the need to examine the concepts of “are we doing waht we planned” and “is the market doing what we expected.”  Finally are the results in line with what we anticipated.

Joni then spent 20 minutes answering questions from the crowd.  Her responses were both candid and insightful.  This was one of the best Breakfast Briefings that I have been to, and I think that they are all excellent.  Joni Fedders did a great job of sharing information about her business and providing information to help those who came improve their own businesses.

The next Breakfast Briefing is on September 12th at the Kettering Tower in Downtown Dayton.  I hope to see you there.

Were you at the breakfast briefing?  What did you think?

Aileron – Meeting the life-long educational and developmental needs of entrepreneurs, business owners, and executives.