Viewing ‘Inspirational Innovators’ Category

Inspirational Innovator: Virgin Group’s Richard Branson

While everyone knows stories about young ambition that turns to corporate success, there is no story more captivating and grand than that of Richard Branson. As a child, the now Chairman of Virgin Group (which encompasses music, books, airlines, mobile phones, trains, consumer electronics, commercial spaceflight, to name a few) saw markets of untapped potential across numerous sectors, but pioneered his vision with the installment of Virgin; a mail-order music store in London. By age 23, the Virgin Store had become Virgin Records, and its first album release boasted over 5 million copies sold.

As time would progress, Branson would continue to add iconic names to the Virgin Records label and build upon the success of the company as it went public. However, Branson’s innovative style of leadership wasn’t necessarily compatible with traditional investors. In turn, Branson would end up selling off Virgin Records to Thorn-EMI in an effort to regain control over his company. His next venture would be the world of air travel. By offering a hip, new and engaging way to travel, Virgin Atlantic has attracted a younger clientele on an airline that pays homage to the days when air travel was sexy and sophisticated, as made evident from their 2011 ad campaign.

In his biography, Branson states that:

“For me business is not about wearing suits, or keeping stockholders pleased. It’s about being true to yourself, your ideas and focusing on the essentials”

Adhering to this principle, the airline division of the Virgin Group does not rest solely on the laurels of their brand image alone, but also ensures a customer service experience that is second to none. With the installment of 52 state-of-the-art classrooms at their Customer Service Training Facility as well as auditoriums, employees are kept up to date on practices that are the benchmark of industry standard. What is truly unique about this program, though, is that it is offered to customers, as well. This level of transparency is a key factor in the success of the brand as a whole, and allows it to build upon an already stellar reputation for excellence.

“In today’s climate where every customer service provider is under pressure, we appreciate the importance of building lasting, valuable relationships with both our internal and external customers.”

It is this mentality that has routinely earned Richard Branson accolades not only for his airline, but across numerous segments with the creation of each new product or service. Branson is also no stranger to sharing his voice on both sides of the operations, and routinely engages customers through his own personal social media efforts of Twitter and his personal blog.

For his ability to focus on the customer desires and selling a lifestyle as opposed to a product, Richard Branson is our Inspirational Innovator this month.

Inspirational Innovator: The Chief Customer Officer Council

Since its inception in 2008, the Chief Customer Officer Council has been the sounding board for individuals in customer service leadership roles across the globe. The position of Chief Customer Officer (CCO) is relatively new and innovative in its own right, making customer service strategy a priority at all levels of a company. The CCO Council serves to support and inspire those CCOs in their quest for superior customer service. This was the concept that lead Curtis Bingham—Founder of the CCO Council—to create a forum where individuals serving in CCO roles could exchange ideas that maximize not only the productivity of their firms, but also their understanding of consumers as a whole, allowing them to unlock new and unique ways to reach them. Today, the CCO Council has become a resource that is widely recognized and highly regarded among CCOs at brands like Oracle, Microsoft, Merck & Rosetta Stone (to name a few), who implement customer service strategies that originate here.

The common thread that binds the numerous members of the CCO Council is the amount of time saved by avoiding the trial & error phase often associated with the execution of new customer service strategies. Within the council, members contribute to a unique peer-to-peer exchange with other members in an effort to resolve “chronic customer issues, create sustainable competitive advantage, help retain profitable customers, and drive profitable customer behavior through the effective customer strategy.” The CCO Council has proven its worth to the numerous customer-conscious companies who realize not only the benefit in creating a CCO position, but implementing fresh and innovative business solutions.

The CCO Council also provides countless useful resources for non-members, and sheds light on to topics such as customer vulnerability to competitors, building and maintaining customer loyalty, as well as customer advocacy solutions from highly recognized members of the organization.

For its work to support and further develop the role of the Chief Customer Officer by serving as a resource and providing a sounding board for CCOs around the world, the CCO Council joins our list of Inspirational Innovators.

Click here to learn more about the critical role of Chief Customer Officers in organizations.

Inspirational Innovator: The Giving Pledge

Last year, iconic leaders Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates joined forces to create an innovative initiative: The Giving Pledge. Through this organization, Buffett and Gates are encouraging and inspiring fellow billionaires around the world to donate more than 50% of their wealth to charity.

Warren Buffett with Bill and Melinda Gates

More than 70 of the world’s wealthiest families have made the pledge since Gates and Buffett introduced the initiative last year. First introduced as a $600 billion challenge to encourage philanthropy among billionaires specifically in America, Gates and Buffett have since taken the Giving Pledge abroad, introducing it to billionaires around the world. Dubbed by the Wall Street Journal as the “most powerful movement in American philanthropy since Andrew Carnegie released his famous ‘Gospel of Wealth’ treatise in 1889,” pledges represent more than $150 billion in philanthropy already.

The Pledge itself is simple: signers have to be billionaires who promise to give at least half of their fortune to charity during their lifetimes. Each writes a letter, which can be read online here. Signers include, along with Gates and Buffett, high profile business leaders like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, and David Rockerfeller.

The Giving Pledge is a natural extension of the inspirational philanthropic efforts Buffett and Gates practice themselves: Bill and Melinda Gates through their Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Buffett through his own well-documented promise to give his Bershire Hathaway empire away to charities. (See an in-depth interview with the trio by Charlie Rose here)

So far, 69 billionaires have signed the pledge, representing more than $150 billion in pledges supporting a range of causes, from fighting cancer and funding Jewish schools to housing orphans in Africa and helping farmers in Appalachia.

Inspirational Innovator: Steve Jobs

Words such as entrepreneur, pioneer, leader, visionary, and genius only begin to describe the legendary Steve Jobs. Through his innovative leadership style and unconventional ideas, Jobs not only started a technological revolution, but also a re-defined ideal of customer service.

As has been widely discussed in the multitude of obituaries since his death earlier this month, Jobs entrepreneurial career began when he, along with the other co-founders of Apple, created one of the first successfully marketed personal computers in the late 1970′s.  By the early 1980′s, the first Macintosh was born.  Jobs left Apple for a brief period of time, building his empire with projects such as NeXT, a computer platform development company, and by obtaining a company that would later become what we now recognize as Pixar Animation Studios. When Apple bought out NeXT in 1996, Jobs was asked to return to Apple as CEO in 1997. During this time, Apple was at the brink of extinction, and it was Jobs who was able to re-invent the company into the billion-dollar business it is today. He remained as the CEO of the company from 1997 until earlier this year.

What played a key role in making Jobs successful in his many business ventures was, put simply, his ability to satisfy the customer. At Apple, Jobs recognized the resources that the company possessed to build an outstanding product. More importantly, he understood how to create a compelling marketing story for those products based on an innovative customer service strategy: showing consumers not only that Apple could meet their current demands, but also their future wants and needs before they were ever aware they would want or need the products.

This philosophy evoked a shift away from the general perception of marketing and customer service.  As Jobs himself put it:

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups.  A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Aside from foretelling the needs of the consumer market, Jobs created unparalleled brand loyalty among Apple customers by going above and beyond traditional customer service ideals among technology companies. A primary example is the well-known service centers at Apple stores known as Genius Bars. These facilities go well beyond the typical help or call center, allowing customers to bring their devices to in-store experts, who interact with them in a one-on-one environment to solve problems and answer questions. Most Apple customers you meet (ourselves included!) have at least one story about how a visit to a Genius Bar left them satisfied and even more loyal to the Apple brand. The Genius Bar is just one example of Jobs vision for providing customers with real customer service not only when purchasing an Apple product but, even more, after they purchase the product.

Although we are now mourning the loss of such an amazing man, his innovative leadership and technology will live on for years to come.  Not only has he inspired companies to strive for customer service excellence, he has opened up the world to a new way of thinking about what customer service truly means.

Inspirational Innovator: Bruce Belfiore

Since its beginnings in 1995 under the leadership of Dr. Jon Anton of Purdue University, BenchmarkPortal has grown with the contact center industry and now hosts the world’s largest call center metrics database in conjunction with the Center for Customer-Driven Quality. Under the new leadership of Bruce Belfiore, the BenchmarkPortal team of professionals has gained international recognition for its call center expertise and its innovative research on Best Practices for the call center industry.

Bruce Belfiore has dedicated his career to increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of call centers by providing managers with useful, actionable information. Belfiore is Senior Research Executive at the Center for Customer-Driven Quality (founded at Purdue University) and is CEO of BenchmarkPortal.  Among BenchmarkPortal’s achievements under Belfiore include expansion of The College of Call Center Excellence, a leader in call center training and certification. Belfiore, meanwhile, is the holder of a registered patent for a symbolic language system known as Simbly™, which has important call center applications, and is the author of the book Benchmarking At Its Best for Contact Centers, a manual for best practices benchmarking.

As CEO of Benchmark Portal, Bruce and his team offer one of the most innovative approaches for companies of all industries to establish best practices that improve key customer service delivery processes and ultimately lead to an exemplary customer experience.

For his dedication to Call Center excellence and his company’s innovative approach to providing companies around the world with service Benchmarking and Assessments, Center of Excellence Certifications and The College of Call Center Excellence, Belfiore is our September Inspirational Innovator.

Inspirational Innovators: Executives Without Borders

Successful business leaders understand that there are many types of adversity and many ways to lead people to overcome it. Executives Without Borders takes that leadership expertise and channels it in an innovative way to empower people around the world to embrace change and achieve success—despite any situation or type of adversity. As such, we are pleased to present them as the second in our series of Inspirational Innovators.

CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders, Robert Goodwin, puts the organizations practices into simple terms: “Some people say, ‘Teach a person to fish and they eat for a lifetime.’ We say teach them how to fish farm and connect them to a marketplace, and then the whole village eats for a lifetime.”

This non-profit organization, founded in 2007, partners with other non-profits around the globe and offers their business expertise in order to make a greater economic impact.  Executives Without Borders (EWB) believe that there are smart, willing individuals in many of these non-profit groups and that they just need the resources and proper information in order to understand how to execute the changes necessary to accomplish their goals—not unlike our work with our clients. EWB provides these organizations with the leadership tools that allow them to not only reach those goals. but to exceed them.

As an example, EWB is currently working on the Nanhi Kali project.  This India-based project works toward enrolling young Indian girls in school and keeping them there.  For most Indian girls, education is not feasible.  In fact, 45% of Indian girls drop out in primary school and 73% call it quits during their tenth year of schooling.  Nanhi Kali tackles this problem by reaching out to these girls and offering them support.  For instance, the organization offers one to two hour classes before and after school hours in which volunteer tutors work to bridge the education gap.

With the help of Executives Without Borders Nanhi Kali was able to reach 57,000 underprivileged girls so far… and their outreach continues to grow.  EWB helped the organization by updating their information-technology system so that they could create necessary business tools such as online sponsorship forms to increase funds and awareness.  Not only did increased funds help buy supplies and clothing for these girls but EWB was also able to market the project to a wider, more global audience in order to gain more support.

The Nanhi Kali is just one example of the many great projects that EWB is involved in. The organization also targets projects involved in the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.  Some of these projects include Shoe4Africa, Charity Water and Camo.  The end goal of goal the projects: to create sustainability through education so that the benefits last long after the completion of the project.

With a team of around 300 volunteer executives and an experienced Board of Directors, there is no telling what this business minded non-profit is capable of.  The Board of Directors at EWB is made up of a prestigious group of leaders from all sides of the industry.  Everyone on the board brings something to the table, whether it is medical expertise, technology development, financial advising, employee relations or governmental department experience.  With all their skill sets combined and their common interest in making a positive impact on the world through their innovative approach, EWB is sure to give a new meaning to business practices in the United States, and new definition for executing change and achieving success in the face of adversity. For that, we hail them as a truly Inspirational Innovator.

Inspirational Innovator: Michelle Rhee

What makes a great leader? Among the traits are vision, innovative ways to approach challenges, the ability to execute, strength of character and conviction, and clear goals and objectives. Enter Michelle Rhee, the first in our ongoing series of Inspirational Innovator profiles.

Rhee is the former Chancellor of Washington, D.C. Public Schools, who championed and executed reform in one of America’s lowest-ranking school systems in academic performance. Undeterred by resistance from those holding tight to the traditional—and often failing—status quo of the education system, Rhee recognized the need for change and implemented it. As chancellor, she closed dozens of failing schools and fired more than 1,000 educators that she felt were ineffective.

Needless to say, her actions polarized D.C. and created a groundswell of animosity toward Rhee. She resigned late last year and, with her clear and ongoing goal of improving our nation’s schools through transformative reform—so that America has the best education system in the world—this Inspirational Innovator immediately founded a non-profit organization to help achieve that goal.

On December 6, 2010, Ms. Rhee went on the Oprah Winfrey show to announce that she has declined all job offers resulting from her high profile work as D.C. chancellor. Instead, she established Students First, with a desire to attract 1 million supporters to help raise $1 billion in order to catalyze education reform in the United States.

Rhee’s Students First is a grass-roots movement designed to mobilize parents, teachers, students, administrators, and citizens throughout country, and to channel their energy to produce meaningful results on both the local and national level.

Students First challenges the “old” way of thinking and managing the education system. Rhee asks for support in demanding that legislators, courts, district administrators, and school boards create and enforce policies that put students first. Her Students First movement strives to make sure politicians and administrators recognize and reward excellent teachers, give novice teachers the training they need, and quickly improve or remove ineffective educators. It also works to ensure that every family has a number of options for excellent schools to attend, so that getting into a great school becomes a matter of fact, not luck. Finally, Students First aims to make sure all Americans understand that our schools are not only an anchor for our communities, but an absolute gateway to our national prosperity and competitive standing in the world economy.

“The reality is that we have some ineffective teachers, some bad teachers, who are in classrooms every day who are doing a disservice to our children,” Rhee told Winfrey. “The data shows if [children] have three highly effective teachers in a row versus three ineffective teachers in a row, it can literally change their life trajectory.”

We are inspired by Rhee’s leadership and her pinpoint focus on effectively implementing and executing such meaningful change to benefit our nation’s youth and future. She is an Inspirational Innovator that we not only admire, but also believe every leader can learn from.