As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Henry Ma.
NYU Stern School of Business graduate Henry Ma began his career in the finance industry with Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs. Joining the Ricoma team in 2015, Ma recently grew into the CEO role after helping the company quintuple its revenue in five years as COO. Featured in industry publications, such as Impressions Magazine and Printwear, and on podcasts, including Action & Ambition and the SocialPros podcast, Ma now hosts the Apparel Academy show on YouTube and continuously strives to be a thought leader on entrepreneurship, digital marketing, and social media.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started at NYU for a degree in finance and economics, then jumped into investment banking as an investment banking analyst for a couple of years at Goldman Sachs. After that, I joined Ricoma as the CFO of the company, which leveraged my financial background to understand, from a business standpoint, what were the financials of the company and how to look at the financial health of a business. It was a much more rewarding experience, given that it’s not just looking at the finances but also building a team, building a product, interacting with customers, and building a business from the ground up. That’s how I got started, and I grew up around sewing machines and embroidery machines, it being a family business. Coming back to Ricoma was an opportunity to scale the business further and take it to the next level.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I don’t know how funny it is, but one of the mistakes when I first got started was that we didn’t have a marketing department. As someone new in the organization and looking to establish an impact, I wanted to make a bunch of changes, right?
So the first thing I saw was that our website was outdated and not very mobile-friendly, so it wasn’t the best user experience to navigate the site. I wanted to make an effort to change the website to make it more user-friendly and essentially modernize the brand. However, I underestimated how much work it would be to redesign a website, especially being a much smaller company back then, and we didn’t have a marketing department. I really thought that I could just give the project to a designer or give the website designer a concept, and then they could just run with it, and then we’d have a new site in a couple of weeks. And I drastically underestimated what kind of effort goes into it, the processes behind rebranding and entirely creating a new website.
I even underestimated how much involvement is needed from my end. There’s input, and there’s content, there are pictures and graphics. And because there’s no marketing department, it was just me and along with the 100 other things that I had to do. So, going through the process, I hired a freelancer to redesign the website and gave them different input about what design I wanted. Still, as we went along, halfway through the project, I realized there is so much involvement with graphics and photos and all these things, which I did not have to pull off the new look. So we ended up probably spending around like five or $6,000. And it was still unfinished, and we already paid five or six thousand, so it ended up being we went probably 70% or 80% of the way into this rebranding of the website project, and we ended up scrapping it.
I was just starting as a CFO, wanting to make a change. This first significant change that I tried to establish was kind of a failure; it set me back a tiny bit, but it made me realize that we need to start with some baby steps when we want to make a change. Always try to gain confidence from some early wins and some small wins, rather than trying to hit a home run right off the bat. Hit your singles and doubles, and have some early victories but don’t try to go for a home run when you don’t know what you’re doing and what goes into it. That’s the first thing, and the second thing was, even if you outsource to someone, whether it’s a third party vendor doing your website or content or wherever the case is, you still need a corresponding person or team internally to work with that person, to provide them with assets, and give them an understanding of what they need to be successful at the job. I initially thought that if I outsourced it, they could handle everything, and I could be very hands-off, but that’s just not the case. Even with hiring a freelancer or hiring a third party or agency of any sort, you still have to have the corresponding personnel or resources internally to handle those projects.
Those are the two biggest things I have learned; don’t bite off more than you can chew at the beginning and get some early wins to build confidence and to get things going, hit your singles and doubles, and at the same time, even working with outside parties, you need to have the corresponding sales internally and the time dedication internally to do those things. With everything else that I was doing, I had drastically underestimated how much involvement I needed to redesign an entire website that had been in existence for five to ten years. After that, our website redesign took about six months because we needed new pictures, we had to implement new design functionality, and then we needed to create brand new content, decide what copy to write the home page, etc.
That first redesign, I just thought, we’ll just kind of copy and paste over everything, and then realized because of the redesign, our text didn’t fit, our pictures didn’t fit, they look outdated, and then we went down this rabbit hole of like all these other things we needed to do. I concluded that, yeah, I don’t have time to do all that, and we weren’t going to be able to do it. We recognized that we’d have to spend a lot more and that it just wasn’t conducive at that time. So we scrapped it, and then, probably six months later, we started hiring a marketing team internally and plenty of content creators. Then we redid the entire website, and that was much more successful than the first time around when I tried to do it just with a freelancer and me. It was definitely not the right way to go.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
From both a personal and professional standpoint, the most considerable influence in my life has been my dad. He has always been the guiding figure in my life, and I’m lucky to have a caring father that pushes me to achieve things that I otherwise would be uncomfortable trying out or achieving. He always leads by example and tries to set an excellent model for me and the business. He’s also very encouraging in terms of new things that I want to implement and try out. Being in a family business, sometimes it’s challenging to communicate with family members or get things done. But, on the flip side, I think one of the most significant turning points in our business was establishing a marketing team and building content. Looking back, he’s been doing this for a while, and he has his way of doing things. And when you start in marketing, it might not be the most direct ROI that you can see as you invest in something like ads and manpower — you’re investing without knowing when that return is going to come. You don’t know what that return is going to look like. It’s tough for someone like my father, who’s been doing this for a while, to make a shift and invest heavily in marketing when he isn’t necessarily a marketing expert or knows the right thing to do; it was hard for him to imagine what the result is going to look like.
So, while it is sometimes tricky working with the family, I was lucky my father was so supportive and helpful with the initiatives that I want to implement. He has also told me that if anyone else tried to convince him to invest half a million dollars over the next two years in marketing and building a team, he probably would have said no. So it’s a blessing that the turning point in the business resulted from him being very open-minded to my suggestions and recommendations and giving me the autonomy to go ahead and implement them, even after the blunder with the website. So, that has been a tremendous influence in getting me to where I am today and instilling in me the confidence to try new things and be okay with failing. You can fail many times; you just need to have that one home run success to get things going, so he has always been very receptive in those areas and encouraged me to push the boundaries and be okay with failing and trying again. So, I will say that my dad has been a significant influence in getting me to where I am today.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When we started, it focused on making the world more beautiful and more customized, more personalized through apparel decoration. That was kind of the vision and the overall mission to empower individuals and businesses to create, and on the wave of the maker movement, that was the driving force behind the start of the company. Ricoma had another driving philosophy that has always been our guiding light which has been the fact that we want to focus on the success of our customers because, at the end of the day, our customers are in this business to make a living, to make money, to earn a profit. And so whatever we can do to help them achieve and make them successful will ultimately drive our success. We have this mantra that only when our customers succeed in their business can we grow in our business, which has always been the driving force of everything we do and make the customer successful. That’s why it trickles down to content, giving people helpful information, and being thoughtful about providing the best overall customer experience possible. Find ways to help them make more money and more profits, and no one’s going to say no to that, so when they find success, they will attribute that success to our help. That’s going to help our business grow, so that’s always been the philosophy and division.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The most recent one is the pandemic. I remember very clearly that I became the CEO in January of 2020. No one predicted that this was going to happen. We kind of started getting hints and news of this situation in China and how it was pretty bad over there towards the end of 2019, beginning in 2020. I remembered in 2019, we had a team boat trip for the company Christmas celebration, and it was fun recapping the year with the greater 2019. I got put into the CEO position starting January and booked till 2020. We were looking forward to a brand new year and many unique projects, and everyone was very excited. And then, we came back from a trade show at the end of January, and it was our first and most prominent trade show of the year, so it was kicking things off with a bang. Everyone was excited to come back, and then things started to come in with news of COVID hitting the US, and there might be potential lockdowns, and we just moved into this brand new building at the end of 2019. We had only been there for about three months, and we were in this new position where everything was in this treacherous, transitioning phase.
Then, everything happened all at once. In early March, things started to shut down, and local governments were having these mandates. I remember very clearly on March 18 is when we decided to have to send everyone home, besides the essential personnel from a shipping and warehousing standpoint. Besides those that stayed, everyone was home and started working remotely. We’ve had cases of a remote workforce in the past, a hybrid situation, but never at this scale. Occasionally, if someone was not feeling well, they could work from home, but never at the scale where literally 99% of the staff had to be sent home because we couldn’t open business. That was a huge transition, and you can imagine, just being put into the CEO role two months ago, it was a major problem and challenge that we had to deal with, and I had to reassure the team that everything was going to be okay. All the while doing that, no one knew what was going to happen. We had to take it one step at a time, so that story has been the biggest challenge for the last year and a half to lead a team and reassure them that things will be okay. While at the same time, really communicate and rally the senior management, think of solutions, think of ways to make this work, especially with a transition to fully remote.
We had to sign out all the office equipment and had everyone come in on the last day and bring everything home, ensuring we stay in communication and figuring out how to manage that. There were a lot of moving parts, but everyone rallied together. I was thankful for having a core management team in place, where the leadership trickled down to reassure and reinforce what everyone needed to do to make this a successful year and not be scared or put off by what’s happening. It actually turned out better for us. Even the marketing team found it much more productive from home, saving maybe an hour or two of commute time and getting more things done. As a result, in 2020, when other competitors were declining, probably around 50 to 60%, we grew our sales by 45%. When you look at that, it’s 100% spread between our growth and other competitors’ decline. And that is attributed to our team coming together and getting through this obstacle, and thinking of ways to rally everyone. Fortunately, we didn’t have to have any layoffs or furlough any personnel, which instilled more confidence in the team.
Since we’re on the topic of the different things that leaders should do to lead the team through turbulent times, I think one of the things is looking at how to take care of your people. When so-called “shit hits the fan,” is when everyone panics. But as a leader, you can’t panic. Everyone else is already panicking, and if you panic, everyone’s just going to jump ship and start to go somewhere else or find safety. You need to be that core pillar of confidence. Even if you’re uncertain inside, you have to portray a high level of confidence to get through this and think about how we take care of our people first. How do we cut the unnecessary fat of things that we don’t need? You start thinking about the things you truly need, and you try to save as many jobs and items of that nature as possible, and then you try to get through it by trying to prolong it until the uncertainty fades away and you come up with solutions. Along the way, that’s kind of my general approach and that’s what we had during the pandemic, and that has worked out well for us.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
You’ll be surprised, I mean, I’m human also, and there are days where you just wake up, and you’re faced with a myriad of issues and problems. I’m not going to sit here and lie that no, I’ve never thought about giving up. I think everyone has thought about quitting, especially as an entrepreneur, when the going gets tough. There are times when you’re so overwhelmed with these issues that it makes you question what you’re doing, but I’ve always come to know that those problems are temporary, and you might be in the moment, getting caught up in the emotions of things. Oh, all these problems, how do I solve them, but logic can solve every problem. Whether it takes time or money or effort or whatever the case is, it can be solved. So you just have to approach it in a logical manner, but sometimes that surge of emotion can cloud your judgment. Hence, what I’ve found helpful is when I feel overwhelmed or frustrated, take a step back, and at the end of the day, get a good night’s rest and wake up with a fresh mind in which you see things from a brand new perspective. You wake up, and you kind of get over the emotion, look at it that logical way, and start coming up with solutions. That has been a coping mechanism that I’ve always found very helpful, which is when you’re overwhelmed and stressed out and frustrated, take a step back, get a good night’s sleep, have a good meal. And then, and just wake up and have a fresh new perspective because you’ll be surprised at how much a good night’s rest can do to kind of clear up your mind and help you see things in a brand new way.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
It’s to be that Guiding Light, being a competent figure, even when things might be going drastically wrong. Your team can’t know that. It’s one thing to lie to them. It’s another tool to portray confidence and instill confidence in the unit that we’re going to get through this. It’s not all fluff and just saying, “Hey, everything’s going to be okay,” and just be there as a source of comfort. It’s also having a concrete plan because people are not dumb. When we say things to kind of smooth over or cover up something, people can sense that. You have to be truthful, you have to be transparent, and at the same time, you have to instill confidence. You have to follow up your words with actions, a concrete plan, and figure out what we’re going to do that will make things okay.
That’s precisely what we executed during the pandemic when we had to send everyone home. We didn’t know how this was going to work. And, during that time, we were hearing whispers of people questioning if the company would have a drastic decrease in revenue. What’s going to happen to their jobs? I mean, you hear that through the grapevine, and that’s a natural reaction that people are going to have. Your job is to calm down the waves and to instill competence but at the same time, explain why it is that we’re not going to have these issues, why it is that we’re not going to have a decrease in revenue or have a layoff or cutting jobs.
During the pandemic, there was a surge in demand for masks. So we coached our team on how to approach prospects with, “Hey, you can get a machine to embroider masks,” and then with that newfound demand, you retrain your teams, and they can see that people are receptive to this type of strategy, and people are getting machines to work out of their home. We coach our teams to tell potential clients that now that everything is shut down and you’re working from home, it’s a perfect time to get a machine and start a business. “You used to have a lack of time to do all these other things, and now you can have more time to fix your website, get your social media together to have an online presence. Learn the craft of embroidery or printing or whatever the case is that you didn’t have time to practice ,before. Now you have more time on your hands.”
So, that type of approach, thinking outside the box, and adapting to the situation, instilling that kind of knowledge inside our team, and then having them approach our customers in that way gained very positive results and instilled confidence in our team’s ability to sell and engage with customers. Instead of just saying that we’re not going to decrease revenue, you showed them what’s the path to get to a sustainable level of sales or revenue. Then they will believe you due to the results that they see rather than just the mere words you tell them.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
That’s a loaded question. To boost morale, I think it goes back to wanting to make sure you show it through your actions. Because, as I said, people are not dumb. So when you just tell them, “Hey, everything’s great, don’t worry about it,” they’re still going to worry because they see the news, they know what’s going on around them, and people talk. And so they’re going to have their own thoughts, but when you show them through actions, it’s hard for them not to believe what they see and what they experience.
It’s hard for someone to say one thing but express another. What they experience is what they actually believe. If you show them through actions and guide them with results, and at the same time instill confidence. You have to have a plan, you have to have a course of action, and then you drive results through doing these strategic actions. The team will become more confident, and when they’re more competent, it’s a positive cycle. When they’re more confident, they can implement and execute the vision better, and that drives better results, and they’re more confident- it’s like an endless cycle. So especially during turbulent times, the way to instill confidence in a team is to really just show it through actions and concrete plans, and then to let them know that this is the blueprint that we’ve laid out, executed to this blueprint, and you’ll see the results.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The one main thing that everyone needs to do is be transparent. Again, people can sift through the BS, and they will know what’s going on if you’re not transparent with them. So transparency is the absolute key, and then just follow that up with action because I look at it like this is the bad news, but this is what we’re going to do about it. Be transparent about the bad news internally within the organization or to a customer, “Oh, your shipment is delayed. We know we lost your shipment, unfortunately.” Don’t try to cover it up because paper can’t cover fires; it’s eventually going to burn through, and you’ll be exposed. Follow up that transparency with what you are going to do about it. However transparent you are, if you just deliver the bad news, that leaves an unsatisfying feeling, or there’s no closure to the discussion. If this is the bad news, even if it’s something as terrible as a layoff or for losing someone, get the concrete plan on when we’re going to bring those people back. Is it in a couple of months, a couple of weeks? What’s the plan there? Maybe we could do some sort of a hybrid or part-time or reduce the hours, like what’s your plan to soften the blow or turn this around? And I think as long as you deliver the values with transparency and the method of what you are going to do about it, I think many times people will be understanding of the position.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
That’s precisely why I don’t try to make plans too far out. The way that I would approach it is, you have to be nimble because you can’t think three, five years out and think that this will be how it is. Times are changing; you must adapt almost every day to changing environments, changing competition, and different factors. I would say to have an overarching structure and a broader picture of where you want to get to in the long term, plan for the long term, and adapt, and pivot. In the short term, stay on the path to reach that long-term goal because you’re saying it’s a straight line from today to the future. It’s never going to be a straight line; it’s going to have curves and detours along the way. But as long as you have a long-term goal and a guiding light as to where you want to be, how you get there in the micro-level will change every day, every single week. You plan for the long term; you pivot and adapt in the short term. Having a broad, overarching longer-term goal and what do you want to be that’s always in the back of your mind, you never lose sight of that, how you get there is going to change, and that can be a million different ways during the short term, so I never try to plan the tactical things. I try to arrange the strategic stuff, and this is how we get to the overarching goal. Examine the broad picture of how we’re going to do it, the tactical things of how you get there. Day in and day out will change by the minute, but the strategic vision will be there for the long term.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
If I had to pick one, the number one guiding principle is a quote from Warren Buffett, “Be fearful when others are greedy; be greedy when others are fearful.” And I think during troubling times, this has been my philosophy towards things during turbulent times. Most people’s natural reaction is a knee-jerk reaction of panic and scaling back or cutting costs; that’s a natural reaction because they fear uncertainty. Uncertainty and turbulent times present an opportunity, and I think most people don’t realize that but because at the surface, your emotional knee jerk reaction is, “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to go out of business, how do I mitigate the loss as much as possible?” So you start cutting back your marketing spend, you begin maybe cutting back jobs and all of those things. When you look at it, the other way presents a golden opportunity when other people are fearful. If you take advantage of that fear, you can be more ahead of your competition.
When things do get back to normal, and they always do, you look at history people always tend to rebound and get back to normal. It might be prolonged, maybe months or years, but it always turns around. It’s never forever, even when people say this “new normal.” People will take certain things to the extreme and jump on the bandwagon or the emotion of what’s happening. It’s the herd mentality of everything. It’s going down, and let’s take mitigating measures to save ourselves as much as possible.
The way that I’ve always approached turbulent times is, looking at it from an opportunity standpoint when everyone else is fearful, I look at the opportunity to see where we can expand. And case in point during the pandemic, other people, other companies laid off a bunch of people and had a lot of people put on furlough with the uncertainty of when they would be able to go back to their jobs. And guess what, because of this, we found a lot of great talent during the pandemic that otherwise we would not have been able to hire. And now, when things are opening back up, people are having a hard time hiring people. Well, we kind of already did the bulk of hiring last year when everyone was doing the opposite. Instead of decreasing our headcount, we doubled our headcount in 2020 from like 45 to like 90-something. So, that’s the mentality, and I think that’s a prime example of what to do during troubling times like guiding principle is, be fearful when others are greedy, be greedy when others are fearful.
Another example that I would give was with the marketing spend. Everyone was cutting back on marketing while no one knew how business was going to go. To stay in business, we had to ask why we would spend thousands of dollars on marketing. Well, guess what, we’ve doubled and tripled down on marketing, and cost per lead was the lowest it’s ever been. It’s like the golden days of Google and Facebook, where things were so cheap because everyone was not advertising. Looking at things from an opportunity standpoint, you start to find a lot more opportunities. And when we were getting leads for a tenth of the cost of what we used to get them, people were still interested in embroidery machines. With all of our competitors just cutting back, that’s why they decreased. And we grew. This mentality helped us in 2001 with the “.com” bubble, in 2008 with the financial crisis, and then in 2020 with a pandemic, so it doesn’t matter what the crisis or the turbulent situation is. That principle has always been the driving force enabling us to come out stronger and farther ahead after this whole thing is over.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
One thing is don’t have that knee-jerk reaction because you have to be less emotional and reactive to the situation. Think proactively that this is just temporary, stick to the long-term goal of what you have in mind, and then adapt. You don’t need to have the knee-jerk reaction of shutting everything down, cutting every cost possible, and just being scared. More often than not, when you have that knee-jerk reaction, you tend to overdo it. You tend to overshoot, and that’s hard to recover from when the situation flips. That’s one thing that many businesses make a mistake with, and case in point, we saw many companies lay off people. And now, when things are opening back up, they can’t find enough people to fill the position. On both sides of the extremes, it’s never good. Like yeah, you cut costs, but then you also weren’t making any revenue because there’s nobody to work, and then when you do need people to work, you can’t find them either, so you got the short end of both sticks. So, never have that knee-jerk reaction and overdo it.
The second mistake that people make during turbulent times is also to not look at their finances; they overlook their finances not to cut the fat. Question if you really need all this, like post-it notes that you might have hundreds of away in storage and people still buying post-its. Be mindful of where the expenses are going, especially during turbulent times. Literally, we went account by account and looked at our financial statements and our expenses, what we were spending money on and what we didn’t need during that time. That’s something that a mistake people make is overlooking that and not thinking that’s as important, and instead try just to cut the most obvious thing: payroll. However, you still need people to obtain revenue and grow the business. So what are the other areas that you might be overlooking that can add up to a significant amount of expenses? Do a deep dive into your finances when turbulent times hit so you can see where to cut the fat.
My job is to get more business, to keep the business going. I think people have a misunderstanding of where that revenue is going to come from during turbulent times. The natural reaction is to believe that business can’t be sustained and we’ve got to keep getting sales. In reality, what you can do while cutting expenses and be more effective, is to actively maintain the relationships with your current customers and tapping into that revenue stream that’s already there. Look at what your customers and your existing customer base need during the turbulent times, and instead of trying to acquire new customers during different times, try to shift the focus on maximizing the revenue and the potential of existing customers because they already know you and are much easier to do business with. And sometimes, we will overlook that fact during turbulent times because there’s the perception that they need to do more to get more customers from elsewhere while you have a solid base.
During turbulent times, your base will probably get you through that much easier than if you were to acquire new customers. So that’s another mistake I see people make, where they try to focus on the new and overlook what you already have and the potential of those customers already being there. If you’ve established a good relationship with your customers during non-turbulent times, you should be able to rely on them during turbulent times to sustain the business and get through those times. We’ve seen that as well, by reaching out to customers and checking in, or asking how they’re doing, and many times you’ll be surprised at what you’ll find in terms of their needs that you might have overlooked if you’re just considering who could potentially be new customers.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
During good times, it’s challenging to keep up growth, and it’s even more difficult during tough times. What I would say is not to lose sight of growth during tough times. You have to have a solid foundation when times are good, and here’s why. The habits that you build will go with you, whether times are good or bad. But what happens is during good times, bad habits get overlooked because things are so good. People tend to overlook the bad things during good times because everyone’s more happy and excited and exuberant about the growth. That growth can outpace and hide the bad things, but the foundation you build your processes, routines, and systems on is where habits get established. Those will show during the good times or bad, so having a solid foundation will be your core no matter what the time is. Stick to your processes, the routine, and those healthy habits built over time. They will make you shine when times are tough because you’re going back to the fundamentals. Because of those fundamentals, you are lessening the flow of the overall macro situation around you and things you can’t control. You’re in control of your process, so if you stick to that process and do well, you will be less impacted during a turbulent time than other people. It can be very easy to overlook when you’re happy and focusing on the good things to recognize the importance of establishing solid habits and putting processes in place when times are good, which can come back to bite you when things are bad. At that point, you realize all the loopholes and gaps in your systems and processes. All these bad things get highlighted, and you realize that you had all these broken processes that you might’ve overlooked during good times. So I would say building a solid foundation, whenever the time is, is going to help you soften that blow when times are bad.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- I think the first thing is instilling confidence. During the pandemic, as people were talking and whispering about what would happen, you have to instill confidence and assure people of the plan to it and follow up that message with an actual action plan and communicate that with transparency to your team. Never try to sugarcoat things, never try to hide things or lie about things — people are going to see through that.
- So, being transparent is the second part, and following up that transparency with an actual plan to instill the confidence that I mentioned in the first point.
- The third thing I would say is not to have a knee-jerk reaction during turbulent times. It’s very easy for leaders to make decisions based on what’s happening right in front of them and they lose sight of the bigger picture. That can have an undesirable result down the road, it might seem like the right thing to do at the time, but you don’t want to overdo it. So don’t have that knee-jerk reaction, and try to mitigate the situation as much as possible but while maintaining your flexibility. Instead of laying off people during the pandemic, we hired and that has turned out well for us. We were experiencing the opposite and thinking logically about what’s going on, recognizing that it’s something temporary, and we kept the vision of the broader picture.
- This is more of a tactical point than a strategic point, but during turbulent times you have to want to work on the things that you didn’t have time to do before. Stay active and productive, even during turbulent times when things might be uncertain. There’s always something to do and when things are good, you might put some projects on the backburner, or put some things that you want to achieve in the company for a later time. But during turbulent times, there could be opportunities that might arise that you might not have had the chance to do when things were good. While you might be cutting back in certain areas, you can make sure that you focus on others to help the business grow. Essentially there’s always a way to add value, even if sales are lower or things are uncertain about how the future is going to be or how the economy is going to react going forward. You can always focus on something that’s going to add value. Think about those value-added things, for example, is it building more customer relationships? You might have more time to talk with customers and add value by building relationships and increasing loyalty to your brand. You can focus on what you might not have had the time to do before the turbulent time happened, so always look at what will be a value-adding activity.
- Ultimately, try to do more with less. That’s kind of going back to cutting down on the fat and cutting out on the unnecessary things and trying to think of ways to do more with less. During the pandemic, we had to ask how we could get more of our team or staff when they’re working from home? With having less collaboration time in the office, how do we change that and adapt to still be effective, and perhaps not have as many resources at our disposal, because we’re cutting expenses in certain areas. Not having as many resources and still being able to be effective at our jobs, one perfect example that I can think of is before, when we were in the office, our service team would be able to troubleshoot with our customers with any phone or video calls, and have a machine right there in the office. When everyone was working from home, you can’t bring every machine home. So how could we do more, while having less, when we don’t have that resource of being in front of a machine. Well, it’s really making sure that you understand how the machines work, having the right skill set to be able to help our customers. Even for training, before we had some customers come into our office for training. When everything was shut down, they couldn’t do that. And so how can we do more training, while not being able to train them in person. We ramped up on the online training, and now we have more online training and group training. We have more time slots, because now instead of having to kind of plan to get machines ready in the office, we don’t have to do that anymore so you save some time there, and you take that time to get more slots ready for training. People still had a solid experience training with us, but in reality, we had a lot fewer resources at our disposal because we didn’t have access to certain things that we could have. It was impossible to access certain things, but we were still able to do more with less because of how we plan, how we structure things and just making sure that the team has a full buy-in to the process and making sure that they still provide a high level of customer satisfaction and service to our clients. So doing more with less is the last point for leaders to think about in order to cut out unnecessary expenses and redirect resources towards adding value to our business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One from Steve Jobs when he said, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” He said that at the commencement speech at Stanford. I’m trying to be satisfied and always stay hungry, trying to push myself to the next level. That, I think, has always been a personality trait of mine where I’m always hungry for new heights and new achievements and trying new things. The “stay foolish” part of this quote really meant don’t listen to what they’re saying about not being able to achieve or that something is impossible. Be willing to try what other people will consider stupid or foolish. That might be the next big idea! Never write something off as impossible or listen to the naysayers. Whatever the case is, we’re much more in control than many people believe we are. You control your destiny. You control your fate. Just put your mind to it, and I think you’ll be able to achieve that.
Always stay hungry; I’m never satisfied with the status quo. No matter what kind of achievement we get, I always look at what’s next. It’s this. And to be honest, it’s always a grind. It’s never-ending, there’s no end goal where it’s like if I hit this milestone then I’m going to retire, or if our business hits this milestone then we’re all good. One thing that I take away from that quote of staying hungry is that in order to do that, you also have to really enjoy the process. I enjoy the process much more than the end result. We look back and we relish in it, we cherish it, and it’s great looking back five or six years ago at what we were able to achieve and how things are so much different now. But those are just milestones. They’re going to pass and fade with time. If you don’t enjoy the actual process, then you just chase after the milestones or the end result, you’re eventually going to get burned out because you don’t enjoy the process. And if you do that, if you enjoy that, then you’re always going to be hungry for the next thing because you’re up for the next challenge. That’s what you really have to do to be successful, so that’s something that I’ve always taken to heart.
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