October 2015 20 Questions: On Leadership

On leadership

Lessons and advice from north country leaders

Since NNY Business began publishing monthly in December 2010, we have featured a wide-ranging, in-depth interview with a different north country business or leader 11 times a year, skipping December for our 20 Under 40 emerging leaders issue. Our 54 featured interviews to date have not been limited to the for-profit sector. We’ve sat down with nonprofit and not-for-profit leaders, and educational and health care leaders. The 20 questions that follow are the best of leadership from nearly five years of interviews.

Patrick Donegan

Patrick Donegan

1) Patrick M. Donegan, hotelier/real estate developer, September 2011

NNYB: What advice would you give to someone getting into business?

DONEGAN: Surround yourself with good people; pay the extra money for good people. You get what you pay for in life, whether it’s a room or a team member. [The Holiday Inn Express] alone was well over a million dollars in payroll last year. You can’t run this place by yourself; you need a good group of people.


Anthony Collins

2) Anthony G. Collins, president, Clarkson University, May 2012

NNYB: As a leader, how do you provide a clear direction? When you took the office 10 years ago, you said that the status quo won’t work.

COLLINS: Good leaders are role models. Over time, as we achieve successes, we can reference those milestones and we’re always talking about the way that everybody can. You have vision and then you point out ways that people are examples of that vision when they’re not even aware that they are. A faculty member who works with undergraduates in research class may not connect that with economic development but that same undergraduate may take that research class and develop a business model around the work he was thinking about in the lab.

Robert Clark

Robert Clark

3) Robert C. Clark, partner, MetalCraft Marine, June 2012

NNYB: Is the shortage of skilled labor, independent of having to train employees, an issue when you have the ability to increase hiring?

CLARK: All kinds of companies need welders and electricians. All these kids grow up and unfortunately we don’t try to introduce them to trades until high school. We need to introduce them from the early days. Kids growing up think that if you want to make money you have to be a computer programmer or game designer. They have no concept that the trades get paid well. Our starting wage is $14 an hour for someone with no training, just a laborer. Our highest paid welder made $80,000 last year. If you couple talent and welding or any of those trades, you have a powerhouse of a guy.

Thomas Carmen

Thomas Carmen

4) Thomas H. Carman, president/CEO, Samaritan Medical Center, August 2012

NNYB: You’ve made significant improvements in infrastructure in recent years. How do you determine which projects to take on first and in what order? Is the puzzle ever complete?

CARMAN: It is an evolution. I think what has guided us and allowed us to prioritize what we have done is based on our strategic plan. The plan we developed in 2005 kind of guided us over that six-year period of time. The plan we introduced in 2011-12 will both help shape and guide. We look at the needs of the community and how to best serve those needs. We started with a funnel of lots of thoughts and had to sort of narrow those down because any organization can only do certain things and do them successfully. We needed to narrow it down to a group we felt we could work on over a course of time and our strategic plan has done that very well.

Michael Hawthorne

Michael Hawthorne

5) Michael J. Hawthorne, president, New York Air Brake, September 2012

NNYB: What makes for a great leader today?

HAWTHORNE: We have had a lot of discussions lately on what makes a great leader. A great leader needs a vision and needs to be able to communicate and articulate that vision. If you can’t ask the teams to do something specific, you don’t have a chance. You have to have the vision and a way to communicate it and subordinate yourself. I found ascending into different leadership roles that your job becomes less and less solving the problem and more eliminating barriers that are limiting other people from solving the problem. You have to hold the organization up and you have to be critical and do the bad stuff; you have to tell people they aren’t doing a good job, You have to hold it up and say, ‘This is where we want to be and why we want to be there. I’m going to do everything I can do to make you successful and get barriers out of your way and make sure you have the right funding and assets.’ I think a leader’s role then becomes subordinated to making sure the rest of the plan is being met.

Marc Compeau

Marc Compeau

6) Marc S. Compeau, director, Clarkson University Reh Center for Entrepreneurship, November 2012

NNYB: Is entrepreneurship constant evolution or a fixed model?

COMPEAU: It’s always changing because consumers are always changing. Right now, I want to enjoy the purchase experience. I want to be forced to take a deep breath. A wildly successful CEO and alumni of the university was on campus and the question was asked, ‘With technology, has it allowed you to relax a bit?’ He said that technology has ramped everything up. Before technology, you used to take a day off to go play golf. Now everything is instant, instant, instant. You used to call, leave a voicemail and I’d get back to you the next day. Now you can’t. It’s just so fast.

7) Robert R. Sturtz, president and CEO, Slack Chemical Co., April 2013

NNYB: We’ve heard that every employee has a number, and you’re No. 8. As president, why aren’t you employee No. 1?

STURTZ: There were seven people here and I was No. 8 when I came here, before I owned it. I’ve known successful national firms where the president parks where ever there was a space. They reserve something for me here, but it’s not good to have that kind of behavior. My success is hiring people in various areas who are better than I am. I never had a chemical background; I came from mechanical and management. I never saw a great interest in taking chemistry. I did brush up when I came here and I am closer to the chemical aspects of what we did 10 years ago than what we do today. Today I make sure the employees I hire have the tools they need to do what the customer needs.

Brian Murray

Brian Murray

8) Brian H. Murray, owner/president, Washington Street Properties & professor of business, JCC, May 2013

NNYB: Do you see yourself as a person who helps people move into a vocation that’s best for them?

MURRAY: I don’t look at it that way. My judgment isn’t infallible. I’ve learned that along the way. I’m not in a position to be a judge of who should do what. I really encourage students to pursue whatever will make them happy. I don’t generally try to discourage someone or encourage someone if they don’t have the motivation. As a professor you have to be careful about that. The last thing I would want to do is get everyone excited about entrepreneurship and they think they’re going to accomplish great things and it’s not the right fit for everyone.

James Scordo

James Scordo

9) James P. Scordo, executive director, CREDO Community Center, July 2013

NNYB: What qualities do you think are important for any leader?

SCORDO: A CEO kind of has to be a jack of all trades, but I think the important thing is that you need to be a foundation. You need to be a person of integrity—you need to be honest with your clients, your employees and all the people you interact with. You need to be able to lead, yet step aside and let people do their jobs. You need to empower employees and give them opportunities to grow. The team approach is crucial. As a leader, I look at myself almost like a coach. The best thing I can do is hire good people and surround myself with good people that are going to help us make the best decisions. We look for a quality of employees that value the language of our organization and that are going to make a difference in people’s lives.

Paul Barton

Paul Barton

10) Paul F. Barton, president/general manager, Westelcom, January 2014

NNYB: What do you think north country leaders should be doing to retain quality young people?

BARTON: That’s the Holy Grail we face. The young people I have in my company I got involved early. One of the keys is to continue to bring in programs where we can get people involved at a young age; to know what’s here. There needs to be a greater cross play with schools like JCC and Clarkson to bring students in as interns. Companies need to be willing to hire them sooner, at some level.

Karen Richmond

Karen Richmond

11) Karen Y. Richmond, executive director, Children’s Home of Jefferson County, March 2014

NNYB: What has made you successful?

RICHMOND: I think my family keeps me very grounded. Truly, it’s a blessing for me to love what I do. I work really hard, probably harder than I should. But it’s the right thing to do. I like the community. I think we are lucky to live in a community like this. People care about us and what happens. It’s a neighborhood you can live in and enjoy. The haves and have-nots live all together. I even toyed with politics for a while, but I feel like on a daily basis I can affect more change doing what I’m doing, more than walking off and doing something other than what I am. It’s important to be able to like what you do. 31 years went really fast. We’ve had so much change and growth that I never felt bored. I’ve been really fortunate to work with some tremendous people in our community. I’m successful in this pool, but not sure how well I’d do in another.

Erika Flint

Erika Flint

12) Erika F. Flint, executive director, Watertown Urban Mission, July 2014

NNYB: What is most important for a leader when considering challenging things?

FLINT: Big picture. They can’t get hung up on day to day. You have to look at the overall direction of the agency or what you’re leading. Keep that always in your mind. Day to day there’s going to be setbacks. It’s par for the course. But if you’re always taking those steps forward; if you’re always still in line with the overall mission, you’ll be fine in the long run. It’s about progress, not perfection.

13) Kevin A. Kieff, regional director, Thousand Islands Region, New York Department of Parks and Recreation & Historic Preservation June 2014

NNYB: What are some of the employment challenges you face as a regional parks manager?

KEIFF: There are some structural challenges to growing a workforce in the state system because it is a relatively challenging process to get into at the ground level then work your way up through the Civil Service and testing system that gets you into advanced positions. In some respects we cannibalize our own system because the folks who come in at entry level and show promise are brought up through the system through advancement. In times of decreasing workforce it’s a challenge to get the new blood into the system. There’s no avoiding that that’s a challenge for us in trying to have people come in with good skills and keep them until we can start bringing them up through the system and eventually get them to their full potential.

Anthony Keating

F. Anthony Keating

14) F. Anthony Keating, special asst. to the secretary of the Army — New York (North), September 2014

NNYB: Who has been most inspiring to you and what have you learned from the people you’ve encountered in terms of leadership?

KEATING: The soldier; the dog-faced soldier who goes out every day and stands in formation and does everything we expect soldiers to do. They’re still doing it. I can’t think of anyone more inspirational to me than that. They’re magnificent people. The job doesn’t have any quantitative compensation but the qualitative compensation is priceless. I couldn’t think of anything that would be more enlightening or inspiring than interacting with soldiers and their families every day.

Kevin Lewis

Kevin Lewis

15) Kevin E. Lewis, CEO, Bernier, Carr & Associates, January 2015

NNYB: When it comes to leading a business that involves people, are there such things are small decisions?

Lewis: There are small decisions; there are decisions that don’t have the same amount of gravity or weight to them. I prioritize things. Now, a small decision poorly done could kill you just as easily as a large decision poorly done. I think every day you have to prioritize.

16) Cathy M. Pircsuk, gm/vp, WWNY-TV 7 and WNYF-FOX 28, March 2015

NNYB: How do you keep people motivated during challenging times?

PIRCSUK: By always having something new on the horizon. We put a new set on the air two years [ago] now. We had virtually everybody looking at swatches and wood colors and design and color and lighting, and really made it a project. Everybody contributed. We’re great project people in this building. Sometimes the day-to-day stuff can get difficult, but we’re really good when we’ve got a project. I think it helps to add excitement to the day-to-day. We’re always looking ahead to something different.

17) Richard B. ‘Rick’ Caskinette, owner, Caskinette’s Ford, Carthage, April 2015

NNYB: How do you manage employee recruiting and retention while also making staff feel valued?
CASKINETTE: It’s a real challenge. We do a lot of things to show our appreciation and celebrate the success employees enjoy. We once had a manager dress up as a cowboy and we fired up a grill outside and Mike Irey and I cooked steaks and had all the sides. I think small things like that go a long way to show the people you want to retain that you care about them. It’s important to maintain a good team who enjoy what they do. It helps the entire business succeed at a higher level.

Jeff Proulx

Jeff Proulx

18) Jeffrey L. Proulx, Franchisee, owner, eight Save-A-Lot grocery stores, May 2015

NNYB: Talk about staff and managing people. When you are successful, do you think it’s important to celebrate that success?

PROULX: Well, first of all, you’re never going to be successful unless you have good people to celebrate with. And the way you celebrate that, there are so many different ways to do it. We probably don’t do it enough, and most businesses don’t do a good job with it. But what we do a really good job with, and what I have to instill in all my managers, is that we respect the people we’re working with. And you respect who they are, whether it’s a young lady who’s just starting out in a cash position, or one of your seasoned veterans.

Ronald Robbins

Ronald Robbins

19) Ronald C. Robbins, fourth-generation operator at North Harbor Dairy Farm, July 2015

NNYB: Agriculture is a demanding business. What do we need in terms of leadership to inspire young people to take up careers in farming and agriculture?

ROBBINS: I think we’ve made progress there. Technology in agriculture has helped that tremendously. We’re seeing young people — my daughter for instance — transition back to wanting to be involved in the farm. So I think we’ve made great strides there just in the last five years. So you have this whole sector that wants to do away with technology on the farm, but you also have another whole sector of young people that are embracing it. It’s an interesting dynamic.

Erin Gardner

Erin Gardner

20) Erin E. Gardner, superintendent, parks and recreation department, City of Watertown, September 2015

NNYB: What really cements your place as a leader in your organization, in terms of earning the respect of constituents?

GARDNER: I have an open door policy. Anybody can come talk to me. When there’s an issue, I address it then. That’s one of the things that a lot of leaders have. When there’s an issue you have to address, you have to do it right then, you can’t put it on the back burner. The community needs to look at you and say, “You know what, she’s listening.” The ability to delegate.

— Compiled by Lorna Oppedisano