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Published October 05, 2009, 12:00 AM

Women Managers Q&A series

Monthly Q&As with a woman manager each from Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota.

By: Staff Report, Prairie Business Magazine

MINNESOTA

Vicki Jodsaas — Founder and president, The Competitive Edge (Alexandria, MN, 7 employees), 6 years with the company/all in current position, B.S. degree in business from Minnesota State University Moorhead (MN), MBA from Regis University (Denver).

WHAT IS THE COMPETITIVE EDGE?

The Competitive Edge Inc. creates profitable growth and stability for small and midsized companies by providing expertise, training and tools to dramatically improve their business strategy and performance. We provide solutions in strategic planning, leadership development, marketing strategy, customer service and human resource compliance and effectiveness.

WHAT ARE SOME COMMON MISTAKES BUSINESS LEADERS MAKE?

Not creating a clear and compelling vision and rallying people around it. Not developing a business strategy, or developing a strategy but not tenaciously executing that strategy in a clear and compelling manner. Not engaging and developing their talent to drive business growth and stability. Losing focus on managing cash while growing.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO EXECUTIVES ON HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF THEIR BUSINESSES?

Create a clear business plan or strategy with a compelling value proposition, a solid strategy for business development, and a clear competitive advantage. Do your homework. Know what your competitors are up to, what is happening in your industry, the markets you serve, and how those things will impact your business. Make clear, timely decisions to position the company for sustainable growth. Choose and develop the right people. Get the right people in the right positions doing the right things and they will drive business success. Ensure that they have strategies, systems and processes supporting what they do.

HAVE YOU NOTICED CHANGES IN YOUR CLIENTS' NEEDS AS A RESULT OF THE ECONOMY?

Some areas have not changed like the constant pursuit of companies to develop leadership. Areas we have seen an increased focus on include strategic planning, market research and plans and human resource updates. There are companies in a holding pattern and companies that are positioning for stability and growth. We have been providing more strategic planning for companies that want to position themselves for long-term success. We are helping to define and redefine their businesses by identifying new business growth strategies, new markets, targeting improvements within their business so they gain a competitive advantage now and for the future.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Teri Ellis Schmidt — Executive Director, Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau (Sioux Falls, 13 full-time employees, 18 part-time employees), 25 years with the CVB/23 years in current position, B.S. in Education from the University of South Dakota.

HOW HAS SIOUX FALLS GROWN IN RECENT YEARS INTO MORE OF A TOURIST DESTINATION?

Our community has wrapped its arms around the concept that we are a visitor destination and are very supportive and have a passion for us being a No. 1 host city. The hotels, restaurants, attractions, activities have all stepped it up. In order to be successful we have to toot our horn more than other cities because Sioux Falls isn’t known as a tourist destination. When you say tourism and Sioux Falls, people think of the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, which we support. But we have recognized over the last couple years that we have a lot to add to that.

HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT MARKETING THE SIOUX FALLS METRO AREA AND ITS AMENITIES?

We advertise nationwide in trade and travel magazines. We do a lot of marketing and promotion locally as well and attend many trade shows. We go to Washington, D.C. and Chicago, call on meeting planners face-to-face and meet with them. We are very persistent. Every year on opening pheasant weekend we set up a table at the Sioux Falls airport, meet the hunters and welcome them to Sioux Falls and South Dakota along with other businesses. We also welcome all the riders on their way to Sturgis every year.

HOW DID THE CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU AND CITY GO ABOUT TURNING DOWNTOWN INTO A MORE ATTRACTIVE AND WALKABLE DESTINATION WITH SCULPTURES, STREETSCAPING AND ADDED AMENITIES?

A lot of that came from the leadership from city hall over the years as well as a strong downtown group of businesses. The Downtown Sioux Falls organization worked very hard. Our community has really embraced downtown. It really is the heart of the city and has become a real jewel in our crown.

HAS THE RECESSION AND AMERICANS PULLING BACK ON VACATION PLANS HELPED LURE MORE VISITORS TO DRIVE TO SIOUX FALLS INSTEAD OF FLYING FARTHER AWAY ON VACATION?

We have worked hard to promote ourselves as a regional destination. Many people are not taking that long two-to-three-week vacation. Instead they are going two-to-three days within 400 miles of their home. Sioux Falls has done well with that because we have so many events throughout the summer. People come here because of something to do, whether it is an event, shopping or medical care.

NORTH DAKOTA

Mary Johnson — President and CEO, Union State Bank (Fargo, 24 employees), 11 years with the bank/all in the same position, B.A. in Accounting and Physical Education from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN.

WHAT IS UNION STATE BANK'S NICHE?

Small business would be our niche with certain pockets of retail banking. Many larger banks by strategy don’t have the personal analysis, personal relationships with your banker and decision maker to help them grow and manage their business like we do. At a large bank, a small business loan is primarily based on the owner’s credit score. We try to look more at the business model, their pro forma and where they are at with their business.

HOW DO YOU STAND OUT FROM OTHER BANKS IN TERMS OF PERSONAL ATTENTION?

Every customer is a face-to-face, hands-on decision. It is a local decision. We look at the business model and the business, instead of just using a computer model. With that there is counseling and advice, looking at realistic growth that a business can sustain and making sure a business model is well thought out. We don’t really have an A list or a D list. That beginning company just getting off the ground could have a good idea and could become very successful.

HAS THE ECONOMY AFFECTED HOW YOU DO BUSINESS?

No, it hasn’t. We develop the levels of risk we feel comfortable with. There are just certain areas we haven’t wanted to get into because of the risk. We use a number of SBA loan programs. The SBA has expanded its offerings, increased the loan guarantee amounts and reduced their fees. We have been able to use that to the benefit of a number of our customers.

DO YOU HAVE CURRENT EXPANSION PLANS?

Not at this time. We’ve had very good growth over the last decade and now have three locations in Fargo. Small business has been a good driver of that. The results speak for themselves.

WHAT ADVICE OR TIPS HAVE YOU PICKED UP THAT YOU COULD OFFER TO BUSINESS PROFESSIONALS?

So often in any type of business there are going to be challenges that come around or things that come up. But more often than not they are opportunities. Our job is to find solutions and take advantage of opportunities. Carefully analyze what your opportunities are within your business niche and take advantage of them. We are small enough that we can take advantage of those. Don’t zig zag. We always tell our staff to do things with a can-do attitude.

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