Entrepreneur, C-suite veteran, and pilot, Randy Africano is bringing his dynamic approach for creating a thriving business to Chicago as acting CEO of the city’s only heliport facility, Vertiport Chicago. Slated to open in late 2014, Vertiport Chicago will be located in the Illinois Medical District on the near south side and service helicopter flights for charter, private, emergency medical, and tourists. Randy talked with TMG about shifts that create a sustainable environment for achievement, and the profitability of morality, integrity, and ethics.
What are the major shifts you’ve seen in the past three to five years in the way business is conducted?
In tough economic times, businesses look for an immediate solution to improve revenues. Staff cuts are almost always involved. This short-term response devastates the heart and soul of a company and sends a powerful message that is not positive.
There are many ways to create prosperity, achieve intended outcomes, and be more effective in the process. Every business has its own complexion. Typically this is driven by the bottom line. Expanding the definition of success to include the company’s relationship with its community, industry, and employees allows for greater innovation and multiplies opportunities to shift culture toward growth. It also speaks to an increasing consumer need to feel good about the company with whom one chooses to do business.
A Google search for ‘change in an organization’ yielded 835,000,000 responses in .41 seconds. Clearly, it is a tortured subject. What have you found to be the most successful ways to bring about significant change in an organization? How can entrenched mindsets be shifted?
Inspiration, employee engagement, and commitment are the most important ingredients to bring about change. As a leader, if you can inspire employees by clearly articulating a vision, and engage them in the change process so that each member of the team owns the vision being crafted, then everyone has “skin in the game.”
Describe how this idea goes beyond the usual pep rally.
The leader must be an individual who is able to dream the Big Dream and inspire others to bring their best talents to the table. What action, product, service, or tool has yet to be developed that would be an industry changer? That it hasn’t been done before can’t become an obstacle. Laying down the gauntlet and letting the team loose to determine how to make it happen, results in authentic ownership of the outcome.
Several years ago, as founder and executive director of a helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) company, I challenged my team to find a way to fly our helicopters under Instrument Flight Rules or IFR. Every time a commercial airliner lifts off the ground, the aircraft is being operated under IFR. We all understand and appreciate how safe this form of air travel has become. Conversely, medical helicopters have one of the worst safety records. I shared with my team that we as a group needed to change that by adopting this proven operating protocol. If we could make it happen, not only would we own bragging rights, we would have facilitated a substantial move toward increased safety in our industry. We succeeded and today the company flies over 2,400 medical flights each year and is the busiest of its kind in the state of Illinois.
How are morality, integrity, and ethics important drivers of change?
Without exception, promises must be honored. If you don’t, what does it say about a company’s morals, ethics and integrity? These are significant promises that represent commitment. They declare intention and direction. These promises must be thought out and communicated very carefully because keeping them is non-negotiable. If it’s negotiable, then don’t make the promise. Sometimes keeping a promise takes extraordinary measures. How do you inspire people by saying, “Well, I said we would, but because of this or that, it just didn’t happen”?
Brand promises must also be kept. Companies often present brand messaging that is not aligned with customer experience, especially in terms of service and support. Scripting has become the new norm. For example, while you’re on hold a recorded voice may tell you how important your business is to the company or how you’re about to experience “world class” customer service. However, the reality is… you’re on hold!
Define your concept of the profitability of integrity.
A great illustration of this profitability model was discussed recently on CBS News. The program cited a Gallup poll finding that lack of employee engagement costs US business up to $550 billion a year in lost productivity. The story went on to say that companies where people are happy perform double the S&P 500 and the Russell 3000. What drives these enviable metrics? When a company authentically demonstrates that it values its employees. It is the manifestation of keeping promises and the result of honoring commitments. Acting with morality, integrity, and ethics is good for business, and more importantly, creates a sustainable business model.
You’ve discussed the value found at the intersection of comfort and disaster. Describe life at this nexus. Can a business thrive at this point?
The sweetest fruit is out on the thinnest branches. Getting to it can be risky. I love living there because it is the place where innovation takes shape. For me, that is where life and business get exciting. You’re doing things that haven’t been done before, turning ideas and concepts into reality, and developing buy-in strategies for your vision. But innovation is not about taking chances with a cavalier attitude. It’s about following your dreams with a plan for action. Only when the risks are understood, managed, and contingency plans exist, do you move forward. This energy creates a venue for attracting and retaining top talent. Without it, there is no growth or innovation, and business is languishing.
Why has taking the high road become newsworthy?
When an individual or a company defies convention and goes above and beyond to do the right thing, it’s newsworthy because it’s unusual behavior. Acting responsibly creates a positive impact that can’t be manufactured. I collect stories about people that do the right thing.
Randy, you’re an experienced pilot. Tell me about flying with a pilot who believes in that power found at the nexus of comfort and disaster!
There is no room in flying for that nexus or for deviation from safety standards. With over 10,000 hours of flight time over 43 years, I can definitively state that I wouldn’t depart from standard operational procedures anymore than I would from a promise made.