“When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like who I had become.” That’s what Tony Gareri told himself after twelve years of working in the family business. Gareri’s father, John, started Toronto’s Roma Moulding in 1984 and had built the family-owned company into North America’s premier manufacturer of hand-crafted, custom picture frames. The company had thrived through several economic downturns, but 2008 was different.
Gareri remembers the day he returned from vacation and saw the startling financial numbers. Sales has plummeted 30 percent from the previous year. Worse still, Gareri was losing his passion for the company. “Those times were very difficult, scary, unchartered and ruthless and with that came all the wrong styles of leadership,” Gareri told me. “We took on the mantra, ‘it’s my way or the highway.’ Many employees did take the highway. Employees began leaving, week after week, month after month. The culture infected Gareri’s management style. “I began treating people differently; not caring about what they had to say, nor was I interested in what inspired them,” Gareri admits. “I was guilty of dictator-styled leadership.”
Gareri was on the wrong path, but humble enough to acknowledge he had a lot to learn. Gareri read Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, about the culture Hsieh developed at Zappos.com, a gold standard in the area of customer service. Gareri credits Hsieh’s work as well as ideas he’s picked up from this Forbes.com column and my book, The Apple Experience, for encouraging him to take bold steps to reinvent the company culture.
Gareri told his father that he would remain at the company only if he had complete control as CEO and the opportunity to build a culture that places a premium on happiness. ” Today Tony Gareri, Roma’s CEO and “Chief of WOW”, is three years into a five-year rebuilding effort. Roma’s sales have rebounded more than 25 percent in the last three years and the company was just named the 2014 Business of The Year by the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce. It was also featured as the cover story on Décor Magazine alongside the title, The Pursuit of Happiness. The article begins, “There’s a feeling of excitement in the air. It’s noticeable from the moment you walk through the door…it’s clear that these people think differently.”
Roma Moulding CEO Tony Gareri and his “Wizards of Wow” accepting award for Business of The Year 2014
How did Gareri “think differently,” radically transforming the culture in a few short years? Here are seven lessons from Roma’s Chief of WOW.
1. Maintain a relentless focus on a bold, inspiring vision. A vision sets forces into motion. It also serves to attract like-minded individuals. As I discussed this article about Steve Jobs and Ford’s Alan Mulally, an inspiring vision only works if a leader keeps the vision in front of the team. The company’s vision—Move, Inspire, & WOW every customer every time—is more than a mantra. The vision infuses every aspect of the company’s culture.
2. Hire “A” players who believe in the mission. “I knew I had to find those people who think differently and love what they do. From accounts receivables to marketing, I had to surround myself with the best and the brightest,” Gareri says. Identifying and recruiting people who are passionate about service is just one part of the formula. The second part was to create an “exodus plan for B and C players.” Gareri says this was a painful and difficult part of the process, but one that was necessary to reinvent the company’s culture.
3. Create core values. Together with his team of “insanely passionate” people Gareri created the company’s core values, a unique and guiding set of expectations to help the company achieve its vision. The ten core values are clearly displayed on Roma’s website with videos of employees explaining how each one improves morale and wows their customers.
4. Change the space; change your mindset. Down came walls, high cubicles, and even offices in Roma’s 80,000 square foot headquarters. The new space was friendlier, approachable, and fun. Communal shared spaces facilitated teamwork and collaboration.
5. Create wow moments. Gareri asked the team, “When was the last time you were really Wow’ed?” He challenged the team to create wow moments for their partners and customers. They began to implement the ideas one by one. For example, one idea that took shape was Personal Emotion Connection Cards. These personal, handwritten notes are sent to customers simply to brighten their day. Another small wow moment occurs when visitors tour headquarters and are greeted by cheering, enthusiastic employees (“Wizards of WOW”) who ring the Roma Welcome Bell. “The entire team stops what they are doing to say hello and to leave our visitors feeling welcomed, warm, and a bit shocked!”
6. Improve public-speaking skills. Gareri picked up tips from this column as well as books and videos to sharpen his public speaking skills. He went from being a ‘shy boy to a confident speaker.’ The confidence has allowed Gareri to passionately lead two-hour all hands meetings, which are streamed, online. The videos from all of the meetings are captured here on Roma’s website. Gareri realizes that his meetings should be opportunities to inform, excite, and inspire. More than thirty team members participate in each meeting and begin planning more than 50 days ahead. The core team blocks out an entire week to rehearse for each event, reflecting Gareri’s commitment to open, transparent, and inspiring communication
7. Have fun, deliver happiness, and never settle. “We shifted the company focus from hitting key performance indicators to having fun, spreading happiness, all while producing ridiculous results. Hard work doesn’t have to hurt,” says Gareri. “I realized that I should dream bigger because dreams do come true.”
Roma’s focus on happiness doesn’t just bring smiles to people’s faces. It leads to very real results. For example, recruitment costs have plummeted from $43,000 in 2011 to $1,200 a year. “The culture alone has made my recruitment job easier. People want to work here and the resumes are flying in. When you create a magical culture, you tend to attract the right people versus having to hire a company to recruit people for you,” says Aman Randhawa, Roma’s Chief Happiness Relations Officer (head of HR). Productivity has also soared at Roma Moulding, along with sales and customer satisfaction.
Roma Moulding makes picture frames, but as Tony Gareri likes to remind me, “The product is the experience. If you’re truly doing something you deeply love, with people you love, driven by a purpose and lead with passion, greatness will come.”
Carmine Gallo is the communication coach for the world’s most admired brands, a popular keynote speaker, and author of Talk Like TED and The Apple Experience; Secrets To Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty.