Profitability and growth: Most managers say they can turn a profit or invest in growth. I ask all my leaders to do both. Get creative. Figure out how you can get your development done cost-effectively while keeping costs down elsewhere.
Customer-focused and employee-centered: The customer should be the focus of every business decision. Where does that leave the employees? It leaves them working as part of a customer-focused, thriving organization that offers them almost unlimited opportunities for growth.
Fearlessness and compliance: We are aggressive. We are also compliant. We push boundaries but understand that we must do so in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. We can develop game-changing products while maintaining a robust quality system that ensures we still meet the letter of the law.
Strategic thinking and execution: We always plan for the future but insist on operational excellence. We break molds and try the impossible, but we are still workmanlike in our pursuit.
Organic growth and acquisitions: We grow through acquisition, but that should never be the only way. When we acquire an asset or company, we expect its leader to show sustained growth as well. Acquisitions are exciting, but they cannot take a leader’s eye off the mandate for the strategic growth of existing companies.
I began in 1991 as a 21-year-old student reading a newsletter and thinking, “I can do better.” My main competitor didn’t take me seriously until it was too late. My newsletter, Home Care Week, became a significant competitor in the industry.
By 1998, my company, Eli Global, comprised 12 people working out of one big room full of folding tables and computers. We published Home Care Week and Rehab Report and had just launched Home Care Compliance Alert.
That same year, cuts to home care funding from the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 hit us hard and made us grow up. We let go of quality people. We worried about meeting payroll and paying our printing bill.
We built up our products in the healthcare space and started looking at acquisitions. Our first acquisition was the Travel Research Bureau in 2000. We bought the company for the price of taking over the owner’s debts and cleaning out his office. My IT director and I rented a U-Haul and came back with a pile of files, furniture, a glass pumpkin candy dish, and a microwave. The microwave was a handy addition to our poorly-equipped break room. However, the most valuable thing we got from the acquisition was a tough lesson. The Travel Research Bureau addressed the complex connection between travel agents and ticketing entities—just as companies such as Travelocity were transforming the industry.
Our next big step was buying The Coding Institute in 2002. We had to deal with prima donna writers who were extremely expensive and modestly talented. They left the company, thinking they had dealt us a fatal blow. We then hired brilliant people with great attitudes and gave them two weeks to master material that took most people a year. Ninety percent of them succeeded and became the core of Global Growth’s editorial excellence. Some of these writers are millionaires today because of the stock appreciation rights in our group of companies that they received.
Our third big step was completing a $40 million acquisition in 2006. We’d had our eye on the company for years, as did several other suitors. But we were scrappier. We found the owner’s contact information from a colleague of a colleague. We e-mailed him to say, “We are going to be on your front doorstep Monday, and we will do what it takes to buy your company.”
Our first India office was a real game-changer. We found a new way to live by our “and, not or” philosophy. Opening our Faridabad office in 2007 allowed us to cut costs while investing in growth and product development.
After Faridabad, our globalization strategy really took off. We opened offices in the Philippines and Malta. We bought our first non-U.S. company in Ireland. In the meantime, our publishing business was faltering. Workflow products and information in real time were replacing newsletters. So, we transitioned our products into software that integrated into the customers’ daily activities.
Our health care business grew, while our print-based competitors faltered.
In 2012, we saw we had a knack for growth. We were successful in taking “okay” businesses and making them great. Our growth was limited by two factors: access to great leaders and access to capital. We invested in leadership development, bringing in robust executive coaching to grow internal leaders while creating an aggressive recruiting team to find them externally.
I learned some hard lessons during those early years: