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Venture Unscripted with CITY INNOVATIONS

What a great experience talking with Josh and exploring ways we can all learn from each other and truly bring value and prosperity to clients, customers and our teams.

How it All Started

Ron’s career began with a willingness to volunteer for anything that came his way. He was driven by a thirst for new experiences and learning opportunities. This eagerness eventually led to Ron being “voluntold” to take on various tasks. However, it shaped him into a “fix it” person and a change agent.

Over the years, Ron has been called upon to address process and revenue improvement challenges in multiple businesses. He emphasizes the importance of keeping an open mind, as the initial solution you envision may not always be the one that proves most effective in the long run.

Taking a Company to the Next Level

Diving into some of the companies that Ron has worked with, he recalls one of his favorite success stories — a family owned business that was looking to reach a huge milestone.

“They wanted to reach $40 million in their 40th year,” Ron explained. “They never had a person on their senior management team that was in charge of sales and marketing before.”

This was a big goal. Ron was brought in to lead the sales and marketing efforts, despite having no prior experience in the industry. The key to his success was his ability to approach the challenge without preconceived limitations.

In collaboration with the company’s team of engineers, Ron streamlined processes and emphasized a customer-centric approach. Through his efforts, the company didn’t just reach their revenue goal — they surpassed it achieving $46 million in Ron’s tenure. This transformation left the business in a much stronger position than when he first joined.

Acquisitions and Mergers

Ron’s journey also led him to a significant role in a large company managing a signature business unit acquired by private equity. This particular challenge involved adapting an old-school, traditional business to a more technologically advanced approach. Ron thrived in this environment due to his high-energy, sense-of-urgency approach.

He emphasizes the importance of bridging the gap between senior business leaders and frontline employees. Ron believes that open and honest communication, regardless of the organizational hierarchy, is essential for success. He encourages individuals to share their observations and insights, fostering a proactive approach rather than a reactive one.

Success is a Mind Shift

In today’s fast-paced world, instant gratification often dominates our thinking. Ron believes that success often requires a shift in mindset. He highlights the growing trend among business leaders to think outside the box and adopt innovative approaches.

One of his career experiences involved stepping into a challenging situation where the business had exhausted traditional solutions. Ron’s willingness to learn and work collaboratively allowed him to find unconventional yet effective solutions.

“I self-admittedly said, ‘I don’t know anything about it, but I’ll learn. We’ll all learn together. I’m going to learn from all of you.’ I think it’s channeling creativity from people that may have worked in the same roles for a long time. You never know where that innovation might come from.”

Ron’s ability to adapt, regardless of his industry-specific knowledge, has allowed him to frame messages effectively and drive growth. He believes in channeling creativity from employees who have worked in the same roles for an extended period, recognizing that innovation can come from unexpected sources.

Always Be Willing to Learn

Learning from customers is a valuable practice that Ron advocates. He recalls advice he received early in his career about always having the customer in the room. Building services and value for customers should begin with understanding their needs and challenges. Ron believes that engaging with customers face-to-face yields crucial insights into their emotions and concerns.

Ron also emphasizes the role of the sales team as experts in their markets. Their direct interaction with customers provides invaluable feedback.

Additionally, business leaders from various functional areas should periodically step into the field to gain firsthand experience and learn from customers.

Seek Out Your Customers

Navigating the delicate balance between what customers think they need and what they actually need can be a million-dollar question for a business.

Ron’s approach involves gaining agreement from decision-makers and their commitment to having an open mind. It also includes involving and engaging the customer.

Your customers are your experts. But it often takes a lot of trial and error to get them in the room and determine what’s relevant and useful information.

There are a couple of ways Ron recommends getting this work done:

  1. Empower Your Sales Team: Ensure that your salespeople are experts in their assigned markets. Encourage them to engage actively with customers to understand their needs and challenges. Additionally, as a business leader, join your sales team in the field and travel with them to visit customers. This firsthand experience will provide valuable insights into customer interactions.

  2. Perform Regular Customer Visits: Make it a routine to get out in the field and visit customers at least once a quarter. Spend time with them, ask open-ended questions such as “How are we doing?” and “What could we be doing better?” These visits allow you to gather direct feedback and build stronger customer relationships. Consider bringing customers in-house occasionally to foster engagement and connections with your team.

  3. Actively Listen and Follow-Through: During customer interactions, let them do the talking. Create a list of open-ended questions and act as a scribe, capturing their key thoughts and feedback. This approach not only makes customers feel heard but also provides valuable insights. The crucial step is to follow through on the feedback received. Implement necessary changes and improvements based on the information gathered to demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction. And avoid the pitfall of conducting customer forums without implementing real changes.

The Process of Process Improvement

So, how should an innovator navigate the process of process improvement?

Ron emphasized that the key to bringing about a recommended solution is to first gain agreement from the decision-maker within the organization. Whether it’s the owner or a senior business leader, their buy-in and permission to explore new avenues are crucial.

The decision-maker is not only motivated to solve the problem but also plays a pivotal role in steering the organization in the right direction.

Ron stressed the importance of encouraging an open-minded approach. Often, people are comfortable with what they know, and change can be met with resistance. Hence, gaining permission for innovative solutions is essential.

Ron, known for his knack for identifying root causes and interconnected issues, highlighted the significance of enlisting the right experts. As a business leader, you may not be an expert in every aspect of your business, and that’s perfectly fine. The key is to identify the areas where you lack expertise and bring in the necessary talent.

Lessons Learned

Reflecting on his extensive experience, Ron distilled his wisdom into three key lessons:

  1. Monitor the Market Continuously: Never become complacent. Keep a watchful eye on the marketplace and stay mindful of your competitors. In business, when things seem easy, it’s a sign to remain vigilant.

  2. Always Have the Customer in the Room: Fundamental as it may sound, building your business around your customers is paramount. Engage with them regularly, ask questions, and truly understand their needs and concerns.

  3. Learn by Doing: Even if you’re an expert in one area, don’t hesitate to step into the shoes of your team members or customers. Spending time in different roles within your organization can reveal simple yet transformative solutions.

Ron’s career serves as a testament to the power of adaptability, open-mindedness, and the relentless pursuit of excellence in business transformation. His journey inspires us all to embrace change and push the boundaries of what is possible in our own careers and endeavors.

Continue Learning

Listen to the full story and gain even more advice from innovative entrepreneurs by checking out the podcast video below. For more Venture unscripted. podcasts, click here.

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