“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” Henry Ford


Consider these staggering statistics: In March 2009, the Gallup organization found that only 30 percent of employees were engaged at work, 52 percent were not engaged, and 18 percent were so disengaged they regularly work against their organization’s goals.

In addition, research conducted by Brand Identity, Inc., shows that “Nearly 80 percent of leaders don’t feel that employees consistently demonstrate drive, energy and a focus on results.” This is also supported by 70 percent who don’t believe that employees are as committed as they should be to the growth of the business and increasing sales.

The message is clear—employees are unhappy at work, and companies are paying for it.

“We are at a time when company employees need to care more than ever about the success of their enterprise. Much more focus on results is necessary to help companies make it through these difficult times,” Lederman says.

Though the ever-looming bottom line is a concern for many small business owners,

culture and hiring can impact your return on investment more than you may realize.

“The greatest companies in the world, big or small, don’t worry about the bottom line because it is so epically good that there is nothing to say about it,” says Dave Logan, cofounder and senior partner of the management consulting firm CultureSync, and author of Tribal Leadership. “If you are really building a great company around values and vision that is going to make a serious impact in the world, you’re not going to have to worry about your revenue or your growth. Your challenge will be how to keep up with it.”

You should think it’s important for people as a whole to be bold and daring (but not reckless). You should want everyone to not be afraid to take risks and to not be afraid to make mistakes, because if people aren’t making mistakes then that means they’re not taking enough risks. Over time, you need everyone to develop his/her gut about business decisions. You must encourage people to develop and improve their decision-making skills. Encourage your people to make mistakes as long as they learn from them.

Do not ever become complacent and accept the status quo just because that’s the way things have always been done. We should always be seeking adventure and having fun exploring new possibilities.

By having the freedom to be creative in our solutions, we end up making our own luck. Always approach situations and challenges with an open mind.

Sometimes our sense of adventure and creativity causes us to be unconventional in our solutions (because we have the freedom to think outside the box), but that’s what allows you to rise above and stay ahead of the competition.

You must believe that inside every employee is more potential than even the employee himself/herself realizes. Your charge is to help employees unlock that potential. But it has to be a joint effort; you have to want to challenge and stretch yourself in order for it to happen.

We grow as a business because we take on new challenges, and we face even more new challenges because we’re growing. It’s an endless cycle, and it’s a good thing; it’s the only way for a company to survive. But it can also at times feel risky, stressful, and confusing.

Sometimes it may seem that new problems crop up as fast as we solve the old ones (sometimes faster!), but that just means that we’re moving; that we’re getting better and stronger. Anyone who wants to compete with us has to learn the same things, so problems are just mile markers. Each one we pass means we’ve gotten better. Yet no matter how much better we get, we’ll always have hard work to do, we’ll never be done, and we’ll never “get it right.”

That may seem negative, but it’s not; you must do our best to “get it right,” and then do it again when you find out that things have changed. That is the cycle of growth, and like it or not, that cycle won’t stop. It’s hard. But if you are not doing something hard, then you would have no business. The only reason we aren’t swamped by our competition is because what you do is hard, and you must do it better than anyone else. If it ever gets too easy, start looking for a tidal wave of competition to wash you away. It may seem sometimes like you don’t know what your doing. And it’s true!. What I have learned over the years is that the devil is in the details.

Strong and positive relationships that are open and honest are a big part of what differentiates your company from other companies. Strong relationships allow you to accomplish much more than you would be able to otherwise.

A key ingredient in strong relationships is to develop emotional connections. It’s important to always act with integrity in your relationships, to be compassionate, friendly, loyal; to make sure that you do the right thing and treat your relationships well. The hardest thing to do is to build trust, but if the trust exists, you can accomplish so much more.

In any relationship, it’s important to be a good listener as well as a good communicator. Open and honest communication is the best foundation for any relationship including with your clients. But remember, at the end of the day, it’s not what you say or what you do, it’s how you make people feel that matters the most. In order for someone to feel good about a relationship, he/she must know that the other person truly cares about them, both personally and professionally.

Embrace diversity in thoughts, opinions, and backgrounds. The more widespread and diverse your relationships are, the bigger the positive impact you can make on your company, and the more valuable you will be to your company. It is critical for relationship-building to have effective, open, and honest communication.

As your company(s) grow, communication becomes more and more important. Everyone needs to understand how his/her team connects to the big picture of what you are trying to accomplish. No matter how good the communication is, it’s still one of the weakest spots in any organization, You need everyone to always try to go the extra mile in encouraging thorough, complete, and effective communication.

The best leaders are those that lead by example and are both team followers as well as team leaders. I believe that, in general, the best ideas and decisions are made from the bottom up; they’re influenced by those on the front lines who are closest to the issues and/process. The role of a manager is to remove obstacles and enable his/her direct reports to succeed. This means the best leaders are servant- leaders; they serve those they lead.

The best team members take initiative when they notice issues so the team and the company can succeed. The best team members take ownership of issues and collaborate with other team members whenever challenges arise.

The best team members have a positive influence on one another and everyone they encounter, they strive to eliminate any kind of doubt and negative interactions; they focus, instead, on creating harmony with each other and whoever else they interact with.

I believe that the best teams are those that not only work with each other, but also interact with each other outside the office environment. Many of the best ideas I have seen were the direct result of informal interactions outside of the office, playing golf or having a drink together after work.

You need to be more than just a team though; you need to be a family. You must watch out for each other, care for each other, and go above and beyond for each other because you believe in each other and trust each other. To create this, we must work together and also play together. Your bonds must go far beyond the typical “co-worker” relationships found at other companies.

Believe in hard work and putting in the extra effort to get things done. Believe in operational excellence, and realize that there is always room for improvement in everything you do. This means that your work is never done. In order to stay ahead of the competition, you must continuously innovate as well as make incremental improvements to your operations: always striving to make yourself more efficient, and figuring out how to do anything and everything better. You must understand mistakes are learning opportunities.

You must never lose your sense of urgency in making improvements. You must never settle for “good enough,” because good is the enemy of great. You should set and exceed your own high standards, constantly raising the bar for competitors and for yourself.

Passion and determination are contagious. You should believe in having a positive and optimistic (but realistic) attitude about everything you do, because you realize that this inspires others to have the same attitude.

There is excitement in knowing that everyone you work with has a tremendous impact on a larger dream and vision, and you can see that impact day in and day out.

While you celebrate your individual and team successes, do not be arrogant or treat others differently from how you would want to be treated. Instead, carry yourself with a quiet confidence, because you believe that in the long run your character will speak for itself.

A few minutes with a 50-year veteran of the commercial collections industry, Harvey Vengroff.

Vengroff, Williams, Inc. was founded in 1963 by Harvey Vengroff at the age of 21 and he continues to run the company today, fifty years later. I recently spoke to Harvey in his Sarasota, FL office and asked him a few questions about himself and Vengroff Williams.

I asked Harvey how he got into the industry and got a very interesting story about a Great Dane named Hoss and a janitorial services company.


While attending law school in California in 1963, he stated: “I was in the janitorial supply business and had some accounts I could not collect, so I typed up a list and took it to Dunn and Bradstreet. I came back a week later and asked for my money and they said they had written everyone a letter. The amount owing was over $30K, a lot of money in 1963.   I did not think that was what a collection agency did…I expected them to go break heads and get my money”, he continued. “The next day I put my dog (the Great Dane) in the truck and went to collect my money. I went into the businesses with my dog and told everyone to pay or my dog would bite them.  The dog growled and everyone paid”‘ he said, as if it were a matter of fact.  “So, I was in the collection business” he said, with a proud grin.

Harvey explained that he was now in the collection business and signing up many new clients.  Word got around quickly in the neighborhood and even more businesses were hiring him to collect their delinquent accounts.  He had no office, no sales department, no expenses except dog food, but the volume grew quickly and Harvey needed help, employees and an office.


Next he told a story about work releases from the local jail and hiring thugs to collect the receivables, working off 3X5 cards and of hiring ranked boxers and former “FBI Most Wanted “as staff.  Harvey smiles as he remembers this period.  “As things change you adapt, it is not nearly as much fun now as it was then.   I was 21-22 years old and I had a bunch of tough guys working for me.  It was fun to hit people and get paid for it, now you have to do things according to a set of rules.”  He sighed after that statement as if the memory was fond to him.

“My first experience with rules was in the early 60’s when some guy came into the office and said he was from the licensing bureau and I threw him down the stairs”.   He laughed lightly and then giggles as he said:  “And we were not allowed to do business in California for the next year.”

In the 70’s and 80’s Harvey was known for his saddle shoes and his Rolls Royce. Harvey stated, “I had 50-60 saddle shoes at any one time. People did not always remember my name but they remembered the guy in the saddle shoes that brought in their collections.”

When asked about payment methods and skip-tracing  Harvey said, “We went to visit them.  We knew where they were located, and whatever fell out of their pockets, we gave them a receipt for”.

What do you miss most about the “old days?” was quickly followed by “ Beating up people and getting paid for it!“ said Harvey with a grin.

I then asked, “With your 50th year at Vengroff Williams right around the corner, what do you attribute to your longevity in the industry?” “The ability to adapt and my lack of ability as a manager. I have allowed other people to do well and I have taken the credit for it”, Harvey said with a snicker in his voice.  I asked him to explain this and he said, “Well, most people have never been empowered in a job and I empower them.  I have always encouraged people to do what they think is right.   When I would come in in the mornings, they would ask me a lot of questions but they usually knew the answers.  If you think about it, they just wanted someone to reaffirm them”.

This made sense to me, as it is the way most business works and the way I was taught to perform business.  Harvey stated: “I made it a point to jog or go sailing in the morning and not come in till 11-12 o’clock .  By that time every problem was solved,”   He feels that by allowing his staff to problem solve and create on their own he has profited in many ways, and so have they.  He has made 19 millionaires from his staff thus far and is looking for the 20th.  He also has many loyal long-term employees or “lifers” as he calls them.


Today, Harvey has no office, just a cubicle in the center of the collection floor, and still shows up daily after sailing on his 58 foot custom sailboat, “Lollipop“.


When I asked, “What was the best advice given to you years ago?” He responded: “ Hum, best advice?  My Dad said you can do anything you want as long as you do not listen to the people who say you can’t!“

When ask about dealing with staff,  Harvey stated: “National collections agencies work by the numbers.  We always told our collectors to think of it as their own money and we paid them very well for it.  We managed the office the same way.  We had a percentage of profits that was shared with the collectors.  Then at the end of the month we threw a pile of cash on the table with each collector getting an equal vote as to who would get a share of it.  If you did not receive a share in two consecutive months, then you were fired.”

“What advice would you bestow on someone entering this business in today’s environment”, was my last question to Harvey that day. “I think the most important thing is to be a salesman.  If you can be a salesman and get the business, then you can find some smart people to collect it.“ Harvey had a great trick to get new business in the days before contracts were required to do business. On a sales call he would ask the prospect for an account to collect and he would phone it into the staff while he took the prospect to lunch. When lunch was completed the account was collected and the deal struck.

This resulted in many big deals for Harvey.

I enjoyed my lunch with Harvey and his passion for business and empowering people. He is an important part of the collection history and quite an interesting person.