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July 2, 2012

SAN DIEGO BUSINESS JOURNAL

commentary

Editorials, letters, columns and other opinions

Company Culture Key to Unlocking Potential I’ve always loved great success stories about pursuing the American dream. A pizza delivery guy becomes head of the Zappos.com online shoe and clothing retailer. COMMENTARY An appliance salesShay Hughes man creates Starbucks. Two college dropouts build the first Apple computer in a garage. While all of these business leaders created staggering wealth as a result of pursuing their dreams, at the core, they each were about creating something much bigger than a paycheck or a product. Their businesses, creations and life’s work, became a living entity with values and ideals that took on lives of their own. These leaders created a culture for their people that defined them. While so many businesses focus on financial goals, the greatest companies focus on something much more elusive than a finite and measurable return on investment. They focus on their people, both those who comprise their team and those they serve. It’s interesting to note how much press there is about today’s great companies — whether it’s Google, Facebook or Zappos — that focus on their employees, facilities and culture. Sometimes it seems more attention is given to who they are as a company than what they actually do. To outsiders, it may seem like a marketing ploy, but there is a reason for it that is much

deeper-rooted than just ego or publicity. “We decided a long time ago that we didn’t want our brand to be just about shoes, or clothing, or even online retailing,” said Tony Hsieh, president of Zappos. “Our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own. We believe that customer service shouldn’t be just a department; it should be the entire company.” Zappos has defined their core values so clearly and proudly that they print them on every box shipped to their customers’ doorsteps in big print. “Value #7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit.” What I love most about the Zappos’ list of values is that it is titled Zappos Family Core Values. If you didn’t know better, you’d think “Mr. Zappos” and his family own the business, but there are no such people. Zappos was founded by two friends at a pizza joint who knew nothing about selling shoes, but recognized an online niche that has since grown to more than $1 billion in corporate value. At Zappos, the employees are regarded as family. In a world where the customer is rightfully king, it seems counterintuitive and even downright risky to put one’s employees first and place such strong emphasis on creating an internal family bond. But putting one’s “family” first is one of the defining secrets to these great success stories. Starbucks believes that’s the case.

“We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers,” said Howard Schultz, the company’s chairman and visionary. “Because we believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers was to hire and train great people, we invested in employees.” At our company of just 27 team members, we’ve embraced the idea of being a family in more ways than one. Not only do we have many family members participating in the work of Hughes Marino, but we also strongly believe that happiness is achieved by finding a perfect balance between our personal and professional life. We invest in our team and their families because having happy employees exudes into everything we do for our customers. Happiness is contagious. Being something much bigger than a paycheck or a job description is the golden thread woven into the fabric of America’s most inspiring and successful companies. One of the great visionaries of our time, the late Steve Jobs, said: “What we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done, although we do that well. But Apple is about something more than that. Apple’s … core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.” You can’t argue with success. After all, companies don’t provide services. People do. Shay Hughes is chief operating officer of Hughes Marino, a San Diego commercial real estate company.

Preparing the Next Generation of Tech Workers Forbes magazine recently published reports stating hightech college degrees are among the most valuable, and the magazine ranks San Diego as the COMMENTARY third best city in the nation for tech jobs. Lee Gilley Our complementary educational and industrial focuses make for a great future. San Diego has a strong presence in all of the top four industries represented in Forbes’ recent article “The 15 Most Valuable College Majors.” The majors include in descending order: biomedical engineering, biochemistry, computer science and software engineering. Forbes references strong growth, high salaries and healthy demand for the high-tech majors on the list. UC San Diego sports some of the nation’s leading technical programs. The bioengineering department has ranked among the top four nationally, every year for more than a decade, and the Jacobs School of Engineering ranks 10th internationally for 2011. Moreover, San Diego landed third place in Forbes’s recent list “The Best Cities for Tech Jobs.” The list compares the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas and measures employment growth in high-tech sectors such as software, data processing, science,

technology and engineering. Tech employment in San Diego has grown by more than 15 percent in the last two years alone. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects more than a 60 percent growth in job opportunities for the biomedical engineering field. And the San Diego Regional EDC reports the local software and life sciences industries annually generate more than $9.8 billion and $9.1 billion, respectively. The region’s booming growth is due, in part, to the natural synergy of our industrial focuses.

Forward Thinking

So, how can we leverage these impressive statistics to ensure a positive future for ourselves, our children and San Diego as a whole? In short, support local business and remain forward thinking at school and the workplace. San Diego’s business culture is one of a kind — we are forwardthinking, agile and high-tech. Our culture epitomizes the “pay it forward” attitude. Countless times I have known local businesses to help others through purely altruistic actions. This honest and helpful culture is what keeps businesses happy and growing. Complementary to the altruistic culture is our strong networking community. Networking creates relationships which yield communication of trusted information. Spreading both positive

and negative information is integral to a healthy business environment because it promotes the “good guys” and demotes the “bad guys.” My company can attest, firsthand, to San Diego’s culture and growth. I have seen the benefits of this environment. I have connected with more players in the contracting, manufacturing and tech industries than ever before. Business is growing — and growing in the right direction — but what does that mean for our children? They’re being ushered into one of the best business environments in the country, and it’s our job to encourage them to continue taking steps to improve themselves and the community. Whether their interests land on Forbes’ Top 15 list or not, teach children to pick a college major that will satisfy their curiosity and support forthcoming financial demands. Help them learn how to think ahead — to finding a job after graduation and paying bills. Help them learn that life requires working hard and thinking on your feet. Teach through words and actions that business is about people and relationships. To sustain growth and strength in our region, we must maintain our strong cultures of business and education, and teach our children to do the same. Lee Gilley is the owner of Mongoose Coding, a local company specializing in custom software automation. Visit. www.mongoosecoding.com

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SDBJ Commentary - Lee Gilley  

Lee Gilley writes about the future of San Diego's business and tech workers. Gilley is the owner of Mongoose Coding, a software automation...

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