10 Qualities of Successful General Managers

General managers play an important role within an organization. Whereas a manager is typically responsible for one department, the general manager typically leads the strategic planning and direction of a company. It’s a critical role and one that requires a person with exceptional qualities. Here are ten of the qualities that all successful general managers share:

1. Optimism: A positive attitude is infectious in the same way that negativity can be contagious. Approaching each day, each employee, each challenge, and each project with optimism communicates a sense of confidence and dependability. Genuine optimism boosts morale and naturally leads to happier employees, increased productivity, lower turnover rates, a better product, and more satisfied customers.

2. Creativity: It is the indefinable quality of successful general managers and the spark that ignites their employees to do great things. Approaching business challenges in new and creative ways can lead to unimagined results that propel the company forward.

3. Conflict-resolution skills: As important as it is for general managers to be seen as part of the team, employees also look to them to resolve disputes quickly and fairly. An effective general manager can spot conflicts before they get out of hand and have the ability to resolve unforeseen conflicts as they arise.

4. Curiosity: Having a natural curiosity is another important quality of successful general managers. In addition to acquiring as much knowledge as possible about their industry and products/services, they ask their employees a lot of questions to see what makes them tick and how they can be better managers.

5. Action-oriented: Successful general managers think and react quickly to situations in the workplace. Being flexible and inclusive in decision-making demonstrates a respect for all opinions and decisive action inspires employees to get behind the desired goal.

6. Ability to remain calm: General managers face many different challenges and decisions on a daily basis. One of the fastest ways to lose the confidence and respect of employees is to have a quick temper and to make rash decisions without having all of the facts. Subordinates need to believe their leader has a plan-even in the direst of circumstances.

7. Ability to coach: The most successful general managers are also good coaches. They recognize and reinforce the talents of employees and, at the same time, observe areas of improvement which can be addressed in both informal and formal coaching sessions.

8. Listening skills: The importance of truly listening to employees is often overlooked. Being a good listener means taking the time to give employees their full attention, communicating their understanding of the situation and/or their needs, offering a possible solution, and encouraging continuous feedback.

9. Communication skills: Successful general managers have to wear many hats and effectively communicate with people in all areas of the organization, from their direct subordinates and bosses to front-line employees and clients.

10. Sense of humor: You can’t underestimate the importance of levity in the workplace. A good boss who is able to joke around with employees and generally create a fun atmosphere will help reduce stress, improve morale, and boost productivity.

How Does the Product Life Cycle Affect Your Role As a Marketer?

Among the challenges that marketers face in real life experiences versus school theories is the application of what we learn in our professional life. Schools updating frequently the books they use to reflect market development are limited. Even when some attempt to do it, they are not able to collect enough examples to prepare you for real life experiences. By all means, they cannot teach you a life time experience in a 3 credits course.

When I studied Business, I focused on marketing courses. I liked the field but I never thought I will be traveling to so many countries and exposed to different cultures. No university could have prepared me to such experience, yet I was taught the basics.

One of the concepts I learned in marketing is the Product Life Cycle (PLC) and its effects on the marketing mix.  PLC is a term used to define the various stages that a product goes through. From its conception to its production, its maturity to its decline, the product goes through multiple phases and they are usually referred to as: Introduction, Growth, Maturity, and Decline. Although I find PLC to be a sales concept rather than marketing, the interrelation between sales and marketing makes the involvement of the marketers essential as they will have to adopt various approaches when facing the different stages.

Most of the articles I read about the PLC assume that the product is new, the competition is low to none, and that customers need to be educated and prompted to act towards the product. How about the not so new products? What if you are launching a competitive product in the market? Does your PLC follow your competitor’s product PLC? My answer is no.

I have worked in multiple types of markets varying from ones where my company had monopoly over mobile telecommunication to extremely competitive markets where we were the 4th operator to enter the market.  I used the PLC as a reference although I believe that the decline phase in mobile communication is not something that I will see in my lifetime hence my preference in using the term Product Cycle versus Product Life Cycle. Surely, I watched the decline of some technologies used, only to be replaced by newer ones (AMPS versus GSM for example), I have also seen companies sold to bigger ones without affecting the presence of the product itself (mobile communication).

As I attempt to define the product cycle below, the reader should take into consideration that my approach is based on a professional experience to introduce a long term product in a competitive market by linking it to the marketing mix versus defining its characteristics from a sales point of view.

1. Introduction:

  • Product: Voice telephony is already known to the public. The investment in educating the public about the product is slim to none. Branding is usually what I focus on in order for the public to identify my product and be able to differentiate it from my competitors’,
  • Price: “Skim the cream” pricing was applicable when I worked for a company that monopolized the mobile telecommunication. The pricing policy to apply needs to be almost in line with my competitors, since it needs to attract customers without causing a price war between the operators (Fact: Companies need you as a customer for your money)
  • Place:  Distribution depends on the type of market. If you have enough flexibility you can opt for direct sales via your own shops, through already established distribution channels (when existing distributors are not bound by your competitors’ exclusivity contracts) or by using the franchising approach. Usually I am faced with budget limitation and I start with using the existing distribution channels.
  • Promotion: Probably the most essential development in this stage. You will need to position yourself by differentiating yourself from your competition. Your message should be clear; you are not just another mobile operator. You need to build public awareness about your product without forgetting to position yourself in this competitive market. Depending on your strategy, your message is targeting the general public or the niche you are aiming for. Usually I start by targeting the general public since mobile telephony is used on a massive scale.

I should mention that usually at this stage I am introducing the basic mobile services. Due to the large investment made by the company it is not logical to invest in a multiple level of services hence increasing the expenditures. However the basic level of services should be able to offer a certain level of flexibility that guarantees positioning as a competitor.

2. Growth:

It is usually the stage where the company is building the branding differentiation. If your positioning message was well thought of at the introduction stage, then you already differentiated yourself from the competition. By now, if you have not achieved your target, you are probably working in a different company. You should learn from your mistake, although strategies a very useful in marketing tactics are as important in competitive markets.

  • Product: Enhance quality while focusing on your message to the target market. In the companies I worked for, enhancing quality is usually increasing coverage areas and upgrading congested sites. You may also want to introduce new services that support your product. I usually have SMS based services launched at this stage.
  • Price: It will usually depend on the competition. You do not want to be the first to start a price war yet you should be ready for it especially if your marketing strategy reflected its success into a declining market share for your competitors. If you had launched new services you may be able to set your own pricing if your competitors do not have them. Beware of setting high prices for those services though, your competitors may be able to launch them faster than you could expect.
  • Place: You have introduced your product; it’s time to expand your distribution channels. Identify the weaknesses of the first stage and try to explore the possibilities. At this stage I am usually adding a direct presence in the critical areas and adding incentives to encourage exclusivity.
  • Promotion: Due to the type of product I am dealing with this is where I target the niche segment, although I keep the general public message.

3. Maturity:

Your competitors are pushing hard, and so should you. When the first two stages are complete successfully you have already guaranteed a market share that you want to keep. Sometimes due to their high investment your competitors are the ones who have problems defending their market share (They matured earlier than you did). If that’s the case, you are still in the growth stage of your product. Reasons for your competitor maturity or a later decline may be an aging network which increases failure in calls and initially high operating expenses such as over-employment (trust me it happens).

  • Product: Enhancing features and services (Value Added Services). Although voice is the product of choice in many markets, the introduction and variation of SMS services can help in extending the duration of your product in the market.
  • Price: Usually lower than the stage before as your competitor matches with your VAS (Value added services)
  • Place: Distribution is fierce, you might have to increase the incentives offered to the distribution chain to keep your market share.
  • Promotion: Although you generally promoted your positioning and differentiated your product, you should focus on promoting the differentiation in the features between your product and your competitors’.  (For example: Your rates per minute of usage are viewed as being higher but accepted because you are covering a wider area than your competitor. You differentiated yourself as being the operator covering all the country. If that was the case, maybe it’s time to focus that you are actually charging per second although you were announcing the minute price)

4. Decline:

Mobile communication became part of our life and I don’t see it fading any time soon. It is part of the communication process that evolved. However, some technologies used for communication faded and were replaced by other types (Semaphore flag signaling, Morse code, Telex, etc…)

In mobile communication when we talk about GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) we know it went from phase 1 to phase 2 and the 3G (Although in developing countries Phase 2.5 is still not applicable).

The marketing mix in this stage will depend on your company’s strategy. The cases I witnessed are as follows:

  • Maintaining the product by adding features such as the Ring Back Tone, MMS, and GPRS (General packet radio service, which is in brief the service that allows us to offer data)
  • Investing further by upgrading to a newer technology hence re-launching the product. Although maintaining (the point above) may be considered as investing further, they are separated due to the high difference in expenditure figures between the two.
  • Sustaining the product by offering it to a niche of customers. When my company decided to replace the old AMPS system with the new GSM we operated both networks together for a long period. The Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS) was more reliable when it came to fax services and our business customers wanted to maintain this option. Another example happened in a different market where existing operators (and competitors) were not authorized to apply for GSM license until our exclusivity term comes to an end with the government. By using a first generation cellular technology such as AMPS they had to choose what to do. Our competitor kept a minimal number of employees (6 people in the whole company among which 2 were in the commercial department) and offered his service to his loyal yet VIP customers.
  • Discontinue the product. When it was time to take a decision as the product entered its decline stage, the majority shareholders of my previous company decided to sell to a firm willing to continue in this line of business. Another way is to simply dismantle and disregard the old product. When the AMPS system (from the previous point c.) became unsustainable, the main towers we used in the new GSM network while other technical equipment was sold.

In a competitive market you cannot deal with your product as an exclusive case. There are many market variations that will affect your decision and performance. The product cycle although theoretical, can help you set your strategy and tactics to ensure your success in your role as a marketer in your company.

Industrial General Purpose Absorbents – All You Need to Know About Absorbents

Fluid solidifiers are a common industrial general purpose absorbent. These solutions have ‘encapsulation technology’ that impedes the activity of fluid spills that can be up to more than 100 times its own weight. Fluid solidifiers are sprinkled onto a spill and the granules absorb the fluid rapidly, turning it into an easy-to-scoop granulated gel that can be disposed of properly.

There are of course other fluid solidifiers on the market, all which act and react in a similar fashion. Usually a granular substance that can be sprinkled or dumped into a spill, the industrial general purpose absorbents encapsulate the spill immediately and begin to soak it up into its pores. Then one can easily remove the granules that have soaked up the spill and dispose of them. This method of absorbing liquid materials has been around for a long time, however many advancements have been made in the area of general purpose absorbents. In some cases, industry requires an absorbent that can absorb a variety of liquid products, from oil based to water based and including a wide variety of chemicals.

If there is a spill where an industrial general purpose absorbent has been used, it is critical to note that clean up is done immediately and properly. There are a variety of ways to dispose of the used absorbent properly as well as regulations for how certain products and chemicals can be disposed of. It’s important to check with your local agency or company to find out how to properly dispose of a cleaned up spill.

Another issue that is important to the industrial general purpose absorbent industry is environmental protection. Some spills are highly toxic and can damage the environment. These spills are required to be contained immediately and disposed of properly. In some cases, you may have to report the spills to a local government agency, especially if the chemical or product that was spilled is not environmentally friendly or is corrosive or dangerous in any way. Soaking up and containing the spill quickly is of paramount importance, which is why engineers are consistently working towards better products that are more environmentally friendly and do their job quickly and efficiently.

There are also a wide variety of wipes available for industrial general purpose absorbents. These wipes are durable yet surface safe–they are often safe enough to work on glass but tough enough to wipe down machinery and wipe up caustic spills. Some wipe absorbents are moist and treated with a solvent to help wipe up and clean the spill that happens.

If spills are expected or highly likely in an area, you can choose a mat or pad to lay down. These industrial general purpose absorbents can be used to protect an area that has a high likelihood of spills, to wipe up a spill or used as a liner for products that may leak or be dirty. These pads generally work in the same way–with an inner core that locks the leak or spill into the center of the pad quickly and for easy disposal.

There are many products that can be used as an industrial general purpose absorbent, finding one to suit your needs is quite easy.

China Suppliers Up Ante on Product Safety

Following a series of tighter consumer protection laws, makers are emphasizing product safety while contending with the high cost of compliance.

Faced with stricter safety regulations in key export destinations, companies in China are allocating more resources to product testing and emphasizing high-quality materials despite the pressure these are putting on manufacturing outlay.

For most suppliers, adopting complicated and far-reaching directives is not the main challenge, but the high expense of compliance is.

Many of the new safety standards require makers to conduct more tests on a greater number of chemical substances. As a result, certification fees for some products have risen by as much as 50 percent, and even doubled in a few cases. CPSIA evaluation for toys, for example, can cost up to $1,000 per model depending on the complexity of the design.

The average toy company now spends $60,000 to $100,000 on examination fees every year. One of the biggest toy makers in China pays more than $2.9 million annually on testing, much higher than the yearly revenue of small suppliers.

Lamp specialist Heshan Mingkeda Industries Co. Ltd spends about $3,000 for SAA certification alone, which takes one or two months to acquire, according to the company’s sales manager Mini Yip.

In many instances, fulfilling safety requirements involves replacing infringing materials with compliant substitutes.

Suppliers of food-grade products, for instance, have already stopped using BPA, an organic compound found in many plastics. In a range of consumer goods, further modifications include the shift from PVC to POE, and from PC to phthalate-free PES, glass and nontoxic silicone.

Battery makers are striving to develop or source safer anode and cathode materials. Some have begun to replace conventional lithium cobalt oxide formulation with lithium iron phosphate, an alternative with lower environmental impact. Other efforts are aimed at improving protection against overcharging, discharging and heating.

But in most instances, “safe” alternatives are costlier than the originals. 3P PVC for instance, is 30 percent more expensive than regular PVC but is 30 percent cheaper than 6P.

Similarly, A5-grade melamine goes for $2,200 per ton, three times as much as the same volume of the A1-grade variant at about $735.

In some cases, imported materials, which invariably cost more, are favored over domestic equivalents. Imported PP, for instance, is 20 to 30 percent higher than domestic versions, at $1,800 to $2,100 per ton. Overseas-sourced organic fabrics, likewise, are 20 to 30 percent more expensive than local variants.

Despite the high outlay, some companies prefer to source abroad for consistent quality. Foshan Geuwa Electric Appliance Co. Ltd sources 80 percent of materials and components for its blenders and juicers overseas, while the rest are purchased locally.

Besides higher raw material expenses, makers have to contend with increases in indirect costs, particularly those related with monitoring the supply chain to ensure that all manufacturing inputs meet specifications.

According to Tim Corrigan, president and CEO of the Quality Assurance Institute, “The root cause of the problem (of product quality) is control of the raw material, application contaminations and subfactories. To fix this requires an overhaul at many factories. The solution calls for significant transparency, diligence and dedication.”

Generally, material vendors are able to offer third-party certification. But for those that cannot do so, companies need to send their own QC staff to supervise the production at the material suppliers’ factories.

More exporters are now limiting their sourcing to suppliers that can provide certified inputs. Still, collection and documentation of every component utilized requires time, effort and money.

In addition to testing and materials quality, manufacturers are also enhancing their in-house QC facilities.

Lai On Products (Industrial) Ltd, a Hong Kong-owned maker of crayons, modeling clay and paint has set up a microbiological laboratory at its factory in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Certified by the China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment, the lab is comparable to a chemical-testing facility. The supplier also sends its products to third-party agencies to ensure compliance with ASTM D-4236 and F963, Toxicological Risk Assessment, EN 71, CPSIA, California Proposition 65 and REACH requirements.

Some baby stroller factories are now equipped with wheel performance, dynamic durability and drop-testing facilities. At the same time, many stuffed toys and children’s garments makers are purchasing more needle detectors.

Any measure to comply with safety regulations undoubtedly adds to the cost of production. Suppliers estimate material and certification expenses have risen about 10 percent in recent months. Many companies try to absorb the additional expenditure, but this is not always feasible.

While investment in facilities can be recovered in the long term, the same cannot be said about testing fees. When order quantities are low, as in the current environment, makers are often unable to recover money spent on certification of specific models. Shorter product life cycles due to fast-changing customer preferences also give manufacturers a narrower time frame to recoup compliance outlay.

Some suppliers try to negotiate bigger orders or ask buyers to shoulder the cost for certification. But clients are averse to both options in view of the current economic conditions.

Typically, tier 1 manufacturers are able to comply with regulations more seamlessly due mainly to their stable financial resources.

“Enterprises that cater to major OEM customers likewise have the easiest time adjusting to the new rules as they have better access to information,” said Cody Wang, chemical testing deputy general manager at Intertek. “They are usually able to make the necessary changes months in advance of enforcement deadlines.”

But for small and midsize factories that have less capital to invest in equipment and prohibitive testing fees, conformance can be a daunting task.

Testers can also be partners

The professional testing industry is booming amid the rising safety trend. With the increased need for product evaluation, the past few years have seen an influx and expansion of third-party laboratories in China, including SGS, TUV, BV, Morlab and Pony Test. These organizations also provide free training on the latest regulations, and inform companies on which merchandise needs testing and how.

Regulatory agencies in the US and the EU have likewise been active in helping suppliers get up to speed.

Workshops on the new EU Toy Safety Directive have been organized, with the support of the EU-China Trade Project and the Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry of the European Commission.

In October 2009, the third CPSC-AQSIQ Summit was held in Wuxi, Jiangsu province. With a theme of “promoting best practices by Chinese manufacturers and US importers to maximize product safety”, the summit was attended by CPSC chair Inez Tenenbaum.

In her keynote address, Tenenbaum reported that in fiscal year 2009, toy recalls went down to 40 from more than 80 in the preceding period. The information exchange between the CPSC and AQSIC about recalls of China-made goods was emphasized, as well as the need for frequent training sessions.

The AQSIQ has been educating China toy makers about safety requirements in the US and on strengthening quality controls. The CPSC has arranged to set up an office at the US embassy in Beijing to help promote compliance with US standards among local suppliers.

Local governments and trade organizations are also vigorously pushing companies to bolster the image of “made in China” products.

At the Canton Fair last fall, the Ministry of Commerce distributed export quality and safety manual to exhibitors.

Organizations such as the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade have been sponsoring seminars for business owners and local government officials on product safety in Southern China.

Regulations getting tougher

The safety bar that China suppliers must hurdle is getting higher by the year as new international and domestic standards are put into place.

In December 2009, the European Chemicals Agency announced the addition of 15 chemicals to its candidate list of substances of very high concern (SVHC) under REACH. Among the inclusions were diisobutyl phthalate, a commonly used plasticizer, and lead chromate, a coloring agent.

REACH has wide-ranging impact in the EU as it requires disclosure of information on hazardous substances contained in every product. The directive is on top of specific regulations such as RoHS for electronic goods, EN 71 for toys, and Regulation 1905/2004/EC for materials that come in contact with food.

For toy makers, the CPSIA/HR4040 in the US and the EU’s New Toy Safety Directive or 2009/48/EC amend existing rules substantially and impose greater restrictions on suspicious chemicals. The latter regulation limits 19 metallic elements. It also bans 55 fragrant substances and warns against a further 11 types.

Other baby and children’s products and toys must pass the standards for EN 71, CE, WEEE and EMC in the EU, ASTM-F963, CPSIA, FDA and UL in the US, AS/NZS/ISO 8124 in Australia and New Zealand, and ST2002 in Japan.

Following the US and EU’s lead, Japan, Australia and even Malaysia are modifying their existing toy safety regulations, particularly on flammability and the use of phthalates and lead.

Lithium battery exporters have to comply with UL1642 for cells and UL2054 or FCC for battery packs in addition to EMC and RoHS. Designs shipped by air are also obligated to undergo UN38.3 testing. In markets where FCC, UL and RoHS approval are not necessary, passing the UN38.3 is sufficient.

For products that come in contact with food, companies have to comply with assorted standards such as UL, CB, CE, GS, ETL, CCC, FDA and LFGB. Most EU countries recognize Germany’s LFGB because of its stricter requirements.

Aside from international regulations, suppliers have to follow domestic guidelines for a number of goods.

Garment trimming makers, for example, need to comply with three sets of requirements for cords and drawstrings to be used in children’s clothing. Issued by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, and Standardization Administration, the GB/T 22702-2008, 22704-2008 and 22705-2008 are based on US’ ASTM F 1816-97(2004), the UK’s BS 7907:1997 and EN 14682:2007, respectively.

In addition, some existing national standards for trimmings have been revised and now have provisions that monitor and prescribe allowable levels for harmful substances that are even lower than European regulations. The GB/T 17592, for example, keeps azo content at 20mg/kg whereas it is 30mg/kg in the EU’s EN 14362.

Likewise, the China government issued a new standard for melamine-formaldehyde products used as food containers and packaging materials. This comes after several foreign markets banned low-end models due to potential chemical leaching.

The regulation seeks to ensure safety by prohibiting the use of urea formaldehyde resin as the main material. A1 and A3-grade melamine dinnerware pieces, which contain 70 to 90 percent of this substance, tend to melt at high temperatures and may cause a health hazard.

To ensure compliance with the safety code, the government has required suppliers to obtain a production license from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection & Quarantine.