CEOs Share The Keys To Building An Exceptional Business
Robert Reiss | Forbes
After interviewing about 750 CEOs, people have frequently asked me to share insights from truly exceptional businesses. I define an exceptional business as, “an integration of authentic culture, groundbreaking customer experience, enduring financial strength and purpose that transcends business.” My editorial team and I have carefully selected which businesses we believe have earned the designation of Exceptional Businesses. Below are insights from these leaders – some of whom you well know, some of whom you do not but should be on your radar.
-Mehran Assadi, Chairman, CEO & President, National Life Group
-Terry Betteridge, CEO, Betteridge
-Lorna Donatone, CEO, Sodexo North America
-Adam Goldstein, President, Royal Caribbean Cruises
-Angel Ilagan, President & CEO, Bridgestone Golf
-Larry Janesky, Founder & CEO, Contractor Nation
-Ron Shaich, Founder, Chairman & CEO, Panera Bread
I asked them all one question: “What is the key to building and sustaining an exceptional business?”
Mehran Assadi: A clear strategy, a strong culture, a purpose-driven and performance-oriented team — resulting in exceptional execution. It all ties together: First, you dream it. If your dreams do not scare the heck out of you, then they are not big enough. Tie your dreams to a worthy cause and connect your team to the cause. Create a movement.
When you are purposeful your team shows up differently. Most importantly, building an exceptional business requires a highly motivated team that has competency, commitment and conviction.
Terry Betteridge: Trust is the cornerstone of any business. It can remain foundational if you keep and defend the details of quality that define what you are. It’s the seamless construction then where the strength of the whole only exists with the consistent fit and polish of the parts: My team or my engagement ring is only right when we work constantly to make the fit and finish better than ever, always looking closer at each of the parts.
Similarly, handmade is never perfection in a computers sense, but it is music without noise if you put your all into every detail with real focus, and people hear that. They hear it and can trust that something different and wonderful is happening. Trust builds into something strong and sustaining then.
And last, I pretty much try and avoid knowing what the competition is doing. I’m not trying to be everything for everyone. I stick to my standards and strengths learned from my father and grandfather. Being like someone else is irrelevant.
Lorna Donatone: Sustainable businesses must have a great value proposition which can endure time, and a culture that can adapt to change. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the people. As a leader, one must create exceptional teams and an environment conducive to thriving both professionally and personally … A place where everyone holds each other accountable to produce great work.
Adam Goldstein: The recipe starts with a product or service that represents great value to the customers and is flexible to evolve over time. Next comes building a vision around growth and opportunity for the business as a whole and the employees as individuals, and a sustained dialogue around strategic choices. There must be dedication to flawless execution with relentless attention to detail. Then there must be resilience, because uncontrollable factors will constantly challenge your business model. There must be a cultural predisposition to do the right thing. Finally, there must be a mindset to drive shareholder value that justifies investment in growth thereby creating a virtuous circle.
Angel Ilagan: I greatly value intelligence in my employees. Good CEOs will surround themselves with smart people who can figure out how to win in any situation. I’ve worked with many excellent brands in a variety of industries, but have learned you can’t take what worked in one situation and apply it broadly. Instead, the key is reviewing opportunities within a company and developing an approach to gain a larger share of the marketplace. Accumulate smart people and establish an objective, mission and vision for the company, then let your people get their jobs done and stop getting in the way.
Larry Janesky: You could say that it’s your business model, your people, innovation or a number of other things. But the common denominator in all of those factors is leadership. The leader needs to be able to discern the best ideas and path from the rest, and build a team of people who perform. Leadership is the key.
Ron Shaich: Panera’s success lies in our ability to undertake long-term transformations that deliver for our stakeholders, including guests, team members, suppliers and the communities where we operate. Such transformations rely on our ability to tell ourselves the truth about our circumstances, know what matters most to accomplish to ensure success and then actually get the hard work done to position Panera for a future that has yet to arrive. When we do this, we also create long-term shareholder value. That’s how Panera was the best-performing stock of the past 20 years, generating annualized returns in excess of 25% and delivering a total shareholder return 44 times better than the S&P 500 from July 18, 1997, to July 18, 2017, when Panera went private.
… In summary, in thinking about the comments from the above CEOs, Sam Walton the founder of Walmart once said something that to me ties everything together, “High expectations are the key to absolutely everything.”
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