Deregulating Energy: When Less Is More

Jevin Sackett EnergySince the country’s inception, Americans have debated the role of government—and its regulations—in the free market.

There’s little new about the debate, with some arguing that government has a significant role to play in ensuring ‘fair business practices’, and others arguing that ‘unleashed’ entrepreneurial spirit is the engine that drives our economy.

And while that debate rages on, it’s instructive to look at the results of deregulation—or, put another way, the diminution of government oversight—on the nation’s retail energy sector.

A clarification: “deregulation” of the retail energy sector does not mean that there are no laws pertaining to the industry, merely that the government has freed up the sector for competition in an open marketplace; put simply—deregulating the retail energy sector means providing consumers (both commercial and residential) with a choice of which company they’d prefer as their provider of electric power or natural gas.

Of course, this is a topic of considerable interest to our company. Our subsidiary, Sperian Energy, is a fast growing retail energy provider across several states that have deregulated their energy sectors. Sperian’s rapid growth—clearly illustrated by the tens of thousands of new energy customers it has signed up in recent months—is a reflection of the broader consumer acceptance of a deregulated energy industry, wherever that choice is made available.

This change in the energy industry is occurring at a most interesting point in time. In the Information Age, Americans consume more electricity than ever; in fact, the total business generated by the U.S. electric energy sector is estimated to be well in excess of $200 billion.

Most agree that the modern era of the deregulated American energy market began in California in 1996. In the almost two decades since then, several additional states have chosen to deregulate their electric markets; for consumers of power—both residential and commercial—deregulation has meant that they are no longer forced to accept the utilities tariff rate, which may or may not reflect market conditions; the end result of the regulated system often being price uncertainty going forward.

Deregulation provides consumers a choice: they can choose to lock in an electrical rate that meets their budgetary needs, or they can decide to go with a variable market rate that could result in lower costs depending upon the commodity price. As an added ‘bonus’, retail energy suppliers often offer additional add-ons such as rebates, demand response programs and other customer incentives.

Of course, as with any new business opportunity, there are some challenges when entering the deregulated energy business.
When an energy market first opens up for competition, one of the biggest business challenges is educating the state’s consumers. Often, energy customers may not, at least initially, be aware that they now have a choice as to their energy supplier. However, sometimes the state can play a role in educating energy consumers, as was the case in Pennsylvania. Through its ‘Choice Program’, that state proactively informed consumers about the deregulation; utilizing bill inserts, as well as television and radio ads, the state played an important role in creating an educated energy consumer.

The adage that ‘old habits die hard’ is also true in this case, and sometimes convincing consumers to switch to an alternative energy supplier can take time; the fact is, however, that in deregulated markets consumers are really only switching the supply portion of their energy consumption, and the delivery of energy to their home or business is still conducted by the local utility company.

Despite the obstacles, there can be little doubt that the move to deregulate energy markets continues to grow nationwide. Some states are moving slower than others: in Michigan, for example, only 10 percent of consumers can choose their supplier, while earlier this year Massachusetts completed their full deregulation of the energy market. Ohio is yet another state that is currently considering full deregulation of its energy market.

In addition, renewable energy—primarily solar—is providing even more possible choices for consumers. Alternate energy retailers do not have to wait for deregulation to partner with established solar companies; such partnerships enable suppliers to utilize their sales force to market solar installations, even in fully regulated energy markets.

Of course, the larger debate over government’s regulatory role in the business marketplace rages on. However, few on either side of that discussion can deny that deregulated energy–and the resulting added choices that it provides–ultimately benefits the American consumer.

Words Matter: 5 Things to Always/Never Say At Work

Jevin Sackett - words matterIt’s been almost two centuries since playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton first introduced the now universally accepted adage that the “pen is mightier than the sword.”

And it is indisputable that, despite all the technological advances, even in the 21st century workplace words retain considerable power. However, while much attention is paid in the world of business to the import of words placed by pen on paper or—as is the case here–on computer screens, often overlooked is the considerable power and importance of the spoken word.

I am not the first, nor I suspect the last, businessperson to note the importance of conversations in the workplace, and the potential impact that “saying the right/wrong thing” can have on a person’s business prospects. In fact, in previous postings I discussed several of the most important qualities that most businesses seek when hiring both employees and senior management; I noted then–and still believe–that regardless of the individual’s role within the company, the ability to speak well and communicate effectively is critical to his or her chances of success.

The examples of things employees could say that carry the potential to either advance–or harm–their chances to succeed in the workplace is virtually limitless. However, having been an active member of the business community for almost two decades—and as CEO of Sackett National Holdings, which employs hundreds of individuals—I’d like to offer some common sense suggestions of things that are best said, or left unsaid, in the modern workplace.

So, for what it’s worth, here are five of what I consider to be the Most Welcome—and Unwelcome—commonly used phrases in today’s workplace.

 

Five Most Unwelcome Workplace Phrases:

 

  • 1) That’s Not Part of My Job: It’s entirely reasonable to wonder “why me?” when one is asked to perform a task beyond his or her normal duties, but simply stating ‘it’s not my job’ shows a lack of initiative, or even interest; it’s also a definitively negative statement that sets a similar workplace tone.

 

  • 2) What’s The Rush?: Again, it’s not unreasonable to inquire why a particularly short deadline has been chosen, but using this phrase implies inflexibility; in business, as in life, things often change and sometimes priorities have to as well.

 

  • 3) It’s Not My Fault AKA He (or She) Said It Was OK: Pointing fingers at other people for personal errors is never a good idea. Mistakes happen, even among the most qualified employees. Accepting responsibility for a mistake is not easy, but definitely preferable to passing the proverbial ‘buck’ to try and avoid blame.

 

  • 4) That’s Not How (previous supervisor) Did This: Learning from past experiences is important. However, equally important is a willingness to adapt to new operational methods; suggestions on how to perform duties in a more efficient way should always be welcomed by management, but comparing a current manager to a past one is not the way to present such a suggestion.

 

  • 5) I Can’t/Won’t Do That: On occasion, an employee may be asked to perform a task that he or she feels cannot be completed as required, and if (s)he believes that—for whatever reason–it would be better done by someone else, (s)he may choose to make that point. But context is very important, and if one chooses to refuse to complete an assigned task, it should be explained as to why that’s the case; in such cases, presenting an alterative method of completing the task is also highly desirable.

 

Five Most Welcomed Workplace Phrases:

 

  • 1) How Are You Doing?: It may sound a little trite, but the simple common courtesy of showing interest in a colleague, as you would any other person, can help create a more cordial, friendly workplace; you may also be surprised how much it can mean to someone who hasn’t been asked this question for some time.

 

  • 2) Maybe We Could Try…: Smart managers and executives usually welcome good ideas, even if they’re not their own. Putting forward practical alternatives that would increase efficiency or reduce costs shows initiative and interest, and most often will be seen by managers as such.

 

  • 3) Would You Like Some Help?: Offering unsolicited assistance to either a colleague or supervisor is not only a display of common courtesy (which is unfortunately not as “common” as it once was) but shows a willingness to work towards the benefit of others, without expecting anything in return.

 

  • 4) You Know, It’s His Birthday/Anniversary: Often, the thoughtful gesture of simply remembering–and acknowledging–an important date in a colleague’s life can mean a great deal to him/her; you spend much of your year working alongside workplace colleagues, so why not help create a collegial environment whenever possible?

 

  • 5) I Couldn’t Have Done It Without…: A willingness to share kudos, and compliments, for workplace accomplishments shows not only magnanimity, but a spirit of teamwork that is highly valued in most companies

 

As you can see, most of these workplace phrases—both welcome and unwelcome—are really just a matter of common sense and courtesy; just remember to always think before you speak because—whether written or spoken—words always matter.

Workplace Diversity—An American Hallmark

Jevin Sackett Business People Corporate White Collar Worker Office ConceptPerhaps more than any other nation, the United States is—at its core—a land of diversity.

And this diversity is found in all aspects of our existence. For example, climatically—the American flag is flown over virtually every climate known to Man; from the arctic lands of Alaska, through the rainforests of the Northwest, the sub-tropical climes of Hawaii and Florida, to the vast deserts of the Southwest or the wide open prairies of the Midwest, the American climate truly runs the gamut.

The same is true economically–the U.S. also boasts one of the most diverse economic foundations in the world. Despite some fundamental changes to the economic structure of the country over the last three decades—the decline of manufacturing and the rise of the service sector being the most notable—few, if any nations can lay claim to the range of employment opportunities that exist in America.

From the world’s leading high tech and financial services companies, through what is still one of the globe’s largest manufacturing bases, to the thriving energy sector, and our undisputed leadership in arts and entertainment, America’s diverse GNP continues to be a dominant economic force well into the 21st century.

Economic diversity also plays a large role in the continuing success of our company, Sackett National Holdings (SNH). Through our subsidiaries, SNH is a leading national player in a variety of critical business sectors, including the aforementioned financial services industry (via SettlementOne Credit & SettlementOne Valuation); the automotive industry (via National Credit Center); the nation’s energy sector (via Sperian Energy); and the hiring process of new employees in virtually all industries nationwide (via PeopleFacts).

Not surprising, then, that workplace diversity is also one of the core principals of the modern American workplace, including all the subsidiaries of SNH.

And although there are (very legitimate) legal reasons for this, I would proffer that a diverse workplace is also good business practice. For many of the same reasons that financial advisors will tell their clients to invest in a diverse portfolio, it is also a wise business decision for a company to have a diverse workforce comprised of the best and brightest employees.

As I discussed in a recent posting, recruiting the highest quality employees is often a daunting task, and one that can help determine the future success—or failure—of any organization. No matter what role an employee plays within a business, their skills and acumen either add to–or diminish–that company’s chances for success.

Simply put, we want to hire the best available candidates for every opening, regardless of their sex, race, color or age. And in all candor, while there are many reasons for doing so, having a workplace as diverse as the nation just makes good business sense.

Workplace diversity is more than just a question of ‘political correctness’, or adhering to legal requirements. With the economy rebounding, as companies scramble to hire the best employees from a shrinking pool of available candidates, smart executives understand that it’s just a wise business decision to select the very best candidates from the widest possible range of applicants.

The old adage that ‘variety is the spice of life’ is, in fact, a truism in modern America. And nowhere is it truer–or wiser–to welcome that variety and diversity than in the workplace.

At the end of the day, it’s the right, smart and, indeed, the American thing to do.

Hiring Executive Management – Qualities That Stand Out

Jevin Sackett Blog LeadershipThe best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants
done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.
— Theodore Roosevelt

Hiring Executive Management – Qualities That Stand Out

Last week, I discussed the five core qualities that I believe most businesses seek when recruiting a new employee. You can read the full article through my last blogpost here.

This week, I’d like to shift the focus to the leadership level, and review the core personal and professional attributes that I believe are desirable in the best candidates for senior management. Allow me to stipulate from the start, the desired management qualities I will be discussing are—obviously—not carved in stone; there are many variables at play when selecting a company’s management team, including familiarity with the unique traits of the organization’s specific business sector (i.e. managers in the IT industry vs. the food service industry vs. the public sector, etc.)

That said, not unlike the previously discussed process of recruiting top-notch employees, hiring top quality management can also be a daunting task; in addition, the quality of the individuals charged with leading an organization can—and often will–have a significant impact on the company’s overall success.

As Chief Executive Officer of Sackett National Holdings, I take seriously my role in the decision-making process regarding who is hired to fill senior management positions within our company. I believe that one of the many important roles played by the CEO of a successful, growing organization such as ours is to surround his or herself with qualified, skilled executives who can–and will—pick up the proverbial corporate ‘ball and run with it.’

As any CEO will confirm, time is one of the most valuable commodities we have and as a result we need to know that we can delegate authority to senior managers who are fully capable of fulfilling their assigned tasks, with very limited supervision.

While once again stipulating that each organization is unique and will, therefore, likely require leaders with personal and professional qualities suited to that company’s individual needs, here are five core leadership qualities that I believe are shared by all of our company’s highly skilled management:

• Leadership skills: It should be self-evident that someone tasked with providing leadership within the company should—themselves–possess core leadership skills, most notably communication abilities; employees can only successfully achieve goals that are clearly delineated and communicated effectively

• Strategic skills: SNH, like many growing companies, is a diverse organization, and our senior managers need to be highly skilled at developing a strategy for their particular business unit, and possess the ability to successfully execute that strategy to its completion

• Quick Thinking: In today’s 24/7 business world, circumstances change quicker than ever before; combine that fact with the rapid growth that our company–and other successful organizations—experience, and it’s easy to understand the importance of hiring senior managers that are quick-thinking enough to thrive in a hyper-growth, rapidly changing business environment

• Expertise: As previously mentioned, SNH is a diverse organization involved in an equally diverse range of business sectors (financial services, automotive, employment screening and energy) Senior managers tasked with providing leadership in each of those sectors must possess the acumen, perspicacity and industry experience required to ensure that each of our business units remains an innovative leader in their respective business sector

• A ‘Good Fit’: Perhaps the most challenging of the core qualities sought in a successful senior manager is that he or she will ‘fit’ well into an organization; despite an often abundance of similarities, no two businesses are run exactly alike, and therefore a talented manager who succeeded at Widget Company A may not necessarily fit well into the differing corporate culture of their competitor, Widget Company B. In the case of SNH, a unique company with multiple office locations–offering a wide variety of products and services across several business sectors–the task of recruiting senior managers who are a “good fit” for our unique business structure is both challenging—and rewarding.

Whether it be in business, government or the military, the quality of an organization’s leadership matters.

And from a CEO’s perspective, Teddy Roosevelt’s sage advice still holds true: recruit the very best men and women leaders available, then allow them to fulfill their own leadership potential–and in doing so, make their own significant contributions to your company’s overall success.

Recruit the Best and Brightest

Jevin Sackett recruiting SNH

As CEO of Sackett National Holdings (SNH), Jevin Sackett fully understands the critical importance of recruiting only the best and brightest available employees.

In addition to his role as CEO of a successful and rapidly growing holding company, Jevin’s expertise on the subject of employee recruitment is informed by his experiences with SNH’s subsidiary–PeopleFacts–a national leader in the employee screening industry.

Read Jevin’s informative views on what to look for when a company is in search of the highest quality candidates: click here.

The New Cuba

For just a moment, picture a place that’s been frozen in time: the streets are lined with Eisenhower-era automobiles, virtually none of the small businesses downtown have a computer and cell phones are as rare as diamonds.Jevin Sackett RepMan Cuba Blog

While you might believe that such a place could only exist on a Hollywood movie set, in reality the description could just as easily apply to modern day Havana, Cuba’s largest city. In the more than 50 years since the United States imposed a trade embargo against Fidel Castro’s Cuba, the world has changed—and changed again—but like an episode out of the Twilight Zone, most of Cuba has remained almost exactly as it was when President Kennedy sat in the Oval Office.

So when President Obama recently announced plans to normalize relations with Cuba, many businesses across America took notice. For regardless of what your view is of that decision—and there are strong arguments both for and against the decision—the undeniable fact is that from a business perspective, lifting the American trade embargo presents enormous opportunities for the world’s largest exporter located only 90 miles north of Havana.

After more than five decades of trade embargo, Cuba presents U.S. businesses with an untapped market for a wide range of exports. In fact, the Great Recession of ’08 actually diminished the already limited amount of trade between Cuba and the U.S.; through October of this year, there was $260 million in trade between the two countries, a far cry from the $601 million through the same period in 2008. And when considering those numbers, it’s important to also remember that the US does not currently allow any goods to be imported from Cuba, including cigars.

While there are many American industries that could stand to benefit from removal of the US embargo on Cuba, one of the largest beneficiaries may well be the auto industry.
In the US, the average age of autos on the road is estimated to be about 11 years old; by stark contrast, due to Castro’s strict rules against purchasing new cars as well as the US trade embargo, most cars in Cuba are well over 50 years old, many as old as 60.
Of course, even when the US embargo ends, there will still be other obstacles for US businesses hoping to develop a Cuban customer base.

One of the biggest roadblocks for potential US exports to Cuba remains the exceptionally low wages paid to most Cuban workers. For example, it’s estimated that the average Cuban government employee—and a huge portion of the population falls into that category—is paid as little as $20 or $30 US dollars per month.

And while government-sponsored ‘free’ healthcare and other services might ease some of that financial burden, unless Cuban wages were to rise, the market potential for US businesses could remain limited.

It is, of course, impossible for anyone to predict with certainty the future of US/Cuban trade relations. However, with the lifting of the decades-old trade embargo, US exporters would be wise to keep their eyes—and businesses—open to the prospect of tapping into an untapped market of millions, just south of the Florida Keys.