1. Business

Workplace insights from three CEOs singled out in 2017 survey for superior leadership

Joe Connell
Joe Connell
Published Apr. 6, 2017

An international financial services firm worth $11 billion. A Riverview shipping logistics firm that has been named one of the fastest-growing companies in the country. A St. Petersburg hair and beauty salon chain.

The CEOs of three very different companies have distinguished themselves in this year's ranking of the Tampa Bay Times' Top Workplaces by inspiring confidence with their employees, survey results show.

The Times checked in with each CEO to talk about their leadership style and how they create a positive company culture.

Small business

Joe Connell, owner of J.Con Salon & Spa

Employees: 80

Currently reading: Scaling Up by Verne Harnish

Email signature: "Live each day to the max"

Connell founded J.Con Salon & Spa when he was a 21-year-old hair stylist. And after 30 years in an industry dominated by 20-somethings, he said an important factor fueling the salon's culture has been adjusting to what the younger generation is looking for in a work environment.

"We try to offer a lot of flexibility because today's workplace needs it," he said.

J.Con has largely switched from a five-day to a four-day weekly work schedule so that employees can better manage child care, run errands and explore their passions.

He also learned that planning outings weeks in advance didn't work.

"Ask them to sign up and come to something in three weeks, it isn't going to happen. But on a Friday night if you say, 'Hey, we're going here,' they'll come," he said. "Everything's a lot more spontaneous."

Although he considers himself an approachable boss, Connell said junior employees in a company of nearly 100 people naturally shy away from giving feedback. So he launched a program assigning eight or nine stylists to a senior team member who acts as their mentor. Connell also splurges on bringing upper-level management to national and local conferences, like Secret Service Summit in Cleveland and Serious Business in New Orleans.

In his office, Connell keeps several copies of his favorite books like Rob Lebow's A Journey into the Heroic Environment and Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese?, which he hands out to employees. His morning routine includes an hour of reading time while enjoying a hot cup of coffee.

Asked about his leadership style, Connell said serving people "passionately and with excellence creates an environment of mutual respect, trust and collaboration."

Medium business

Bobby Harris, CEO of BlueGrace Logistics

Employees: 507

Currently reading: The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Caffeine preference: Red Bull

In about a year, BlueGrace has grown from 180 employees to more than 500. But employees of the freight management company say they feel well informed about its current state and direction for the future.

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"Transparency is key," Harris said. "People will pay you back tenfold if you're going to show them where the company is going."

So the entire company gathers in-person or via Skype each Monday to hear Harris talk about what is going on at BlueGrace. He also directly responds to employees who give him feedback through an online portal.

Maintaining a strong and positive company culture is a top priority for Harris, whose business coach is Cameron Herold, the former chief operating officer of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, whom he met at a speaking event several years ago.

That culture, he said, starts in the hiring process.

"We make sure we have caring, happy people who come to work from the first day," he said, adding: "We don't care how much you know until we know how much you care."

The catchphrase may seem strange for a technology company focused on freight movement, but Harris said the human element is key.

"Somebody is relying on us in a critical way to make their lives easier or avoid disaster," he said. "We're hiring people who we know care, who will stay late to make sure they're serving their clients."

Large business

Paul Reilly, CEO of Raymond James Financial

Employees: 11,000

Currently reading: Does email count?

Reilly officially became Raymond James' chairman earlier this year, after the founder's son, 74-year-old Tom James, stepped down. He has spent eight years preparing for the role, and his employees have responded well to him at the helm. They described him as an "excellent communicator" in the Times' Top Workplaces survey.

Reilly's job has been to carry on the culture and values that James created within the company, he said, rather than creating a new one.

"First and foremost," he explained via email, the focus is "treating people well."

One of eight children, Reilly has a "team-oriented, collaborative style."

"I tend to sit back and listen, to not assume there's only one way of getting things done," he said. "That said, there are two areas where this is an exception: You can't change your strategy on a whim and your core values are never up for negotiation."

There is little need for secrecy with your employees and that communication comes naturally if you are being honest and thoughtful, he said: "If you're confident you're doing the right thing, you don't hesitate to talk about it. I value people being forthright — if you know where you stand you can figure out where you're headed — and I think people should expect that of me as well."

Reilly said he wakes up at 6 a.m. and gets right to his email, with the exception of a couple of days a week when he mixes in some extra time to play tennis.


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