By Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press.
Alana Nicol, who was named president of Gerry Weinberg & Associates last month, has some advice for entrepreneurs — and family business owners.
She’s the daughter of the guy who heads the Southfield consulting firm, Gerry Weinberg.
The small private firm was founded 22 years ago by Weinberg. He was a corporate sales executive who saw an ad in the Wall Street Journal promoting Sandler Training franchises. Weinberg, his daughter said, was intrigued and thought the training method was a good fit for him and made a career change and started the firm.
The firm is now made up of five people, including Weinberg and Nicol, and aims to help companies enhance its sales skills, its hiring and development, its organizational structure and its strategies for the future.
Nicol, who graduated from Michigan State with a degree in packaging because she said she liked science but wasn’t good enough at math to major in chemical engineering, joined the firm after working at S.C. Johnson in Wisconsin.
We talked to Nicol between meetings. She sat in her Jeep — engine off, windows down — for a telephone interview.
QUESTION: So is it the plan for you to take over the firm one day?
ANSWER: Yeah. We’re working on getting the organization to a point where we can grow beyond Gerry’s production and anything we get from him is a bonus.
Q: How long will it be before you’re the one in charge?
A: I’ve started. That’s what the shifts in roles have been, and the president announcement. Taking on more of the overall strategy and overall business. Gerry’s the type of person who will work forever. But, we’re working on around a five or six year plan to transition.
Q: So how is your dad as a boss?
A: He’s the best role model I’ve ever had in my life. He’s very good at helping you uncover your potential. He’s been a believer in me, even at times when I didn’t believe in myself; but because of his belief in me, I knew I could get it done. We’re totally different in our perspectives on everything. We’re pretty much opposites. He’s very brief, direct, to the point, very much a risk taker, doesn’t think about things before they come out of his mouth. I’m probably much more of a team-oriented person, much more nurturing, want to make sure the team is on board, and probably more strategic than tactical. He’s also a pure sales guy. He’s been a sales guy since he was a paperboy. I, obviously, did not have a sales background. I didn’t even like sales.
Q: Any thoughts on working in a family business?
A: It’s not for everyone. I couldn’t do it with my mother. I love my mother very much. But with our personalities, that just wouldn’t work. It has its advantages. My father and I listen and respect each other, that when we have to push back or have a difficult conversation, we can. In some organizations its more difficult. Not only do we have different personalities, but we have generational differences. We’ve had a lot of growing pains. But, we’ve done an amazing job leveraging each others strengths and weaknesses.
Q: How will the company change with you in charge?
A: My biggest strength is team cohesiveness. Gerry is pure sales, super driven. He never stops learning. But, I think, maybe from a management of the team perspective, I bring skills he doesn’t.
Q: Any thoughts on women in top positions in companies?
A: The biggest struggle women have is they have a hard time seeing themselves the way other people see them. We don’t always have enough confidence in our abilities to be more bold or assertive. That’s tough for women. We’re nurturing and want to make sure everyone is OK before we take care of ourselves. But, the perspective we bring — because the world is so male dominated — is refreshing.
Q: Best free consulting advice?
A: (Laughter.) If you are the head of an organization, make sure that your organization has a documented plan and you’re coaching and supervising against it. Make sure best practices are shared — and best practices don’t always come from the top.
Hobbies: Working out, Zumba, outdoor activities
Family: Husband, Chris Nicol; daughter, Isabelle, 8
Education: Michigan State University, bachelor’s degree in packaging
Experience: Prior to joining the firm, she was a packaging engineer and global team leader at S.C. Johnson, also a family-run company, in Racine, Wis. She joined Gerry Weinberg & Associates in 2004, first working part-time, then full-time in a variety of roles, including director of marketing.
Alana Nicol offers some advice for making the most of attending a conference, networking event:
Be prepared. Do your research and know what companies, people, you’d like to meet. Often you can find information about them, as well as their photos, online so you can identify them.
Wear a name tag. It will help others know who you are and remember your name. It’s generally easier to see if you wear it on your right side.
Practice your pitch. Have a concise, engaging speech ready that highlights things important to the person you’re talking to, not necessarily what will benefit you. Avoid too many details, jargon and anything that sounds like bragging.
Have business card strategy. Know where you plan to keep your cards, and the cards you receive. Consider using a note taking system to help you remember who you met.
Find a partner. If you pair up with someone you can help make introductions for, that person likely will do the same for you.
Talk less, listen more. You should talk only 20%-30% of the time. Ask engaging questions, listen closely.
Take notes. You likely will meet many people. Don’t wait until the end of the day to take notes.