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Building a Winning Business

Building a Winning Business

Tom Salonek

Author’s Bio: Tom Salonek is the founder and CEO of Intertech, a successful technology and training company in the upper midwest. Intertech twice has been awarded a place on the Inc 500 list of fastest growing companies in the nation and is a six-time “Best Places to Work” winner in Minnesota. Tom holds a bachelor of arts degree in computer science from the University of St. Thomas and has performed graduate work at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. He also has completed executive education at the Harvard School of Business and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2005, Tom was named one of Minnesota’s top business leaders under 40. He is a past instructor at the University of St. Thomas Management Center. A prolific business writer and thinker, Tom has published more than 30 articles and frequently blogs at on business, leadership and technology topics. He and his company have been featured in business magazines and newspapers in Minnesota and nationally. A firm believer in giving back to community, Tom founded the Intertech Foundation to financially assist families with critically ill children in 2003.

Book Synopsis: Use this book as a blueprint for successfully competing in good times or bad. Building a Winning Business is organized around 70 short, practical and highly useful “takeaways” that allow readers to easily digest the book in a few hours. Includes 20-plus downloadable templates and tools.

Why did you write this book? I have learned a lot about how to turn the dream of owning a successful business into reality. Maybe the desire to inspire others comes from some “advice” I received in my first professional job after college, which was to “go home at 5 p.m. because you’re not management material kid!”

Why should readers buy your book and how will they benefit from it? Operating a successful business is about doing a lot of relatively simple things extraordinarily well. From serving clients to supporting employees to understanding markets, it’s all about paying attention to the critical details and consistently applying proven business management principles. It’s all in my book, along with many downloadable templates and checklists.

Entrepreneur Tom Salonek Explains the Secrets of Building a Winning Business

The world is changing. The global economy is uncertain and things are equally shaky at home. Technology is evolving at any increasingly rapid pace. The upcoming workforce is a generation unlike any other and will stretch us in how we attract and retain talent. Our competition can come from Bangalore or Boston or Burnsville, Minnesota. These challenges can be daunting, but I believe they are good for business. They force us to get better at serving our customers and employers, and to be smarter about cultivating employees (and ourselves) and understanding our markets.

Call me a wild-eyed optimist, but I’m convinced these challenges are compelling us to build the strongest organizations possible to compete in the largely unchartered business waters of the 21st century. This conviction lies at the heart of my book, “Building a Winning Business: 70 Takeaways for Creating a Company that Will Remain Strong During Good and Bad Economic Times.”

The principles in my book are the very same concepts that I’ve learned and used during the past 20 years to build my own company. Anyone with a couple of hours to spare who is interested in starting, building or growing a business can read this book and immediately start using the strategies I’ve described. To make it super user-friendly, I’ve bundled 27 downloadable templates with the book, which are replicates of the forms and guides we use at Intertech. Each template provides a specific tool including an Interviewee Checklist and Employee Recruiting Guide for hiring, guides for Strategic Planning and SWOT Analysis, meeting or “Huddle” Agendas, Employee Review forms and much more.

What You’ll Find


Among the topics you’ll find covered in Building a Winning Business: hiring, managing, strategy (including how to find, retain and reward good people and to let go of bad fits), working with vendors, managing projects, handling problems, and meetings. I also devote 14 chapters or “takeaways” to general leadership topics. Leadership is given so much play because I believe it’s up to leaders to set the tone, keep things positive and model continuous communication, as well as the traditional leadership responsibilities around planning, goal-setting, solving problems and insisting on results.

In Takeaway #15, for example, you’ll learn the differences between “stars, saints and dogs,” and my advice to only keep “star” team members on board rather than those who are merely good team players (saints), or conversely are “diva” top performers (dogs). I have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with a few “dogs” at Intertech over the years and can tell you that they are not worth the drama. While clients temporarily may be dazzled by their diva energy, over time they will cost you more than anything they contribute.

Subsequent sections include critical, sometimes surprising lessons I’ve learned along the way, such as using values to differentiate the organization and limiting plans to only three goals. Building a Winning Business addresses strategy by mixing a qualitative focus on mission and principles, with quantitative direction for measuring goals and performing SWOT analysis. For example, rather than merely advising leaders to become better listeners, Takeaway #16 will give you examples of specific questions to ask your staff to in order to gain truly helpful feedback.

“Soft” Topics for the Business Savvy

Some may consider my attention to the “soft” side of leadership – listening, letting people know you care and forgiving honest mistakes – a little unrealistic, particularly given today’s brutal economic landscape. I challenge those critics to start paying attention to all the emerging research on the new realities of the workplace that validate the importance of treating people as your most valuable resource (because they are!).

Check out my blog ( if you’d like to regularly follow my ideas, experience and recent learnings about leadership, business, management and technology topics. I frequently blog about the latest management and research thinking emerging at Harvard Business School, MIT and other leading business and executive education programs around the country. And sometimes I share some of the life lessons I learned from a business person you probably have never heard of: my dad Theodore Salonek.

Building a Winning Business is dedicated to Theodore Salonek, who passed away in a tragic farming accident about a year ago. I grew up on that farm and learned a lot of important lessons, thanks in large part to my very wise and kind father who held me to a high standard but always forgave mistakes and let me know he cared. I learned more about working with people from my dad than from all the business books I’ve read in my life.

Doing Good by Doing Good

Building a Winning BusinessMy dad’s life was a testament to the power of believing in the best in other people. When he died, more than 1,000 people came to the funeral and many told me that he had made a critical difference in their lives. That’s probably why one of my highest values, in business and in life, is giving back. Takeaway #69, Embrace Corporate Responsibility, explains how we started the Intertech Foundation to provide financial support to families with critically ill children.

Contrary to what many believe, starting a foundation can be relatively easy and doesn’t have to cost an inordinate amount of money to get going. The Intertech Foundation has helped a number of families during their darkest hour and it has yielded another surprising benefit for our company: employees greatly appreciate the opportunity to be involved in the grant-making decision process.

In addition to the grants, we host monthly parties at the local Ronald McDonald House for siblings of critically ill children who are in nearby hospitals. It’s easy for the sibs to get a little lost when all the focus, quite understandably, is going to the child who is fighting for his or her life. By bringing some cheer to siblings on birthdays we are able to act like kids ourselves for a few hours each month too. Employees consistently tell us that taking part in the monthly parties is one of their greatest satisfactions at Intertech. Our commitment to philanthropy also has helped us to recruit some of the very best talent in area. Call it doing good by doing good!

An Important Footnote: PR, Marketing and Social Media

The only major business topic that I didn’t cover in great depth in my book is the importance of public relations, marketing and social media. (That omission doesn’t mean I don’t think those things are incredibly important, just that I wanted to keep the book concise for busy people!). I do believe in the power of PR and marketing and have been working with several consultants on both for many years. Reaching out to the news media during the past decade has helped to position me as a business thought leader in Minnesota and beyond.

Not only has our PR efforts yielded dozens of articles about my company and me, they also have allowed me to write and publish many articles under my own byline. These efforts increase visibility and let clients and prospective employees know “you’re real.” All my years of business writing also is yielding another benefit in the era of social media: lots of solid content that I’m repurposing to share online.

Getting good press doesn’t happen by accident. You need to work with someone who understands how journalists work and who can help you identify and package information in ways that will get their attention. And beware: a story cannot be too self-serving. Business journalists want to tell stories that their readers, listeners or viewers find interesting, which probably rules out the fact that your company hosted a picnic for employees or made a contribution to a local charity. Those are good things and you certainly can talk about them on your website or in your blog though!

In fact, social media has opened up an exciting new avenue for PR and marketing. While traditional news organizations are shrinking, savvy businesses are harnessing the power of the Internet to tell their stories and engage important audiences. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, …you name it and you’ll find me and Intertech there. Social media is becoming one of the biggest tools in my company’s marketing toolbox.

Blogging is another big component of my social media strategy. In fact, my book first was informally “published” in my blog. It was a great way to get feedback and fine-tune my thoughts before sacrificing any trees to create an actual book (which also is available as an e-book to keep the environmental impact to a minimum).

And in this visual age, I’ve also found that my YouTube video is particularly appreciated by people who are thinking about joining our firm or doing business with us: it makes the words come alive and shows folks the face behind the name. Making a video may not be high on your list of fun things to do, but there are plenty of talented vendors who can help you pull it off in a professional way.

Running your business takes a lot of time, energy and thought (or some might say “blood, sweat and tears!”). My best advice is to be fair, honest and consistent, create systems that help you stay on track, and take time to remember the people who are helping you to make it happen. At the end of the day, your hard work will yield a business strong enough to withstand the bad economic times and to emerge a winner in the good times undoubtedly just ahead.




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