Great Learnings from Boston’s Small Business of the Year Awards

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SMB Research was very pleased to be able to attend the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s 26th Annual Small Business of the Year Awards yesterday (Oct 14, 2010) at the Colonnade Hotel.  Emceed by WBZ Radio’s co-Anchor of “WBZ Morning News” Ed Walsh, the event itself was flawlessly put together and efficiently executed, for a very enjoyable event.

Better yet, the winner’s stories and remarks were compelling and inspiring.  Zipcar’s CEO, Scott Griffith, set the tone with his keynote in which he talked about his Pittsburgh, PA, origins, his seven years at the helm of Zipcar, and Zipcar’s goal to be a disruptive force in transportation.

Zipcar's Scott Griffith

Perhaps most important, Mr. Griffith, spoke about his five lessons for small businesses:

  • Get the Business model right.
  • Keep it simple. – described as one of Zipcar’s core values
  • Sell the steak, not the sizzle.
  • Have a worldview.
  • As you grow and innovate your company, you sometimes have to innovate yourself.

Entrepreneur of the Year Joanne Chang, pastry chef & owner of Flour Bakery & Cafe talked about how her growing bakery / cafe business started out as a dream, and even when,during her first difficult years, she asked her then boyfriend (now husband) and her parents whether she had made a mistake, they urged perseverance.

Flour bakery + cafe's Joanne Chang

Ms. Chang’s perseverance has apparently paid off, due in no small part, it seems to me, from afar, to Ms. Chang’s stated focus on not just making really great food and accompanying this with great service, but also (even!) enhancing the life of her employees and customers, and having fun while they are doing this.

You do not hear this often enough from businesses that sound like they mean it.

What came through to me from Ms. Chang’s brief, but poignant remarks, were her passion for her business, how this has sustained her – and seemingly been infused by her longtime employees.  There is a lesson here.

The Award for Business Excellence went to Cedar’s Mediterranean Foods, Inc. What struck me about Cedar’s is their emphasis on providing food for a healthy lifestyle, and doing this with what is reported to be the latest manufacturing technology, and a focus on “green”: The company plans to have the facility’s roof entirely covered with solar panels by the end of 2010 to help produce energy used for operation.

The 2010 Business of the Year Award went to Sagamore Plumbing & Heating.  CEO Joe Harold, said something very interesting: Sagamore Plumbing did not win this award; our customers won this award for us.

Joe Harold - Sagamore Plumbing & Heating

Established some 19 years ago, in 1991, Sagamore has grown to 150 employees, who average 13 years of employment with the company. Most notably for me, Sagamore demonstrates its commitment to its employees (and, by extension, its customers) with its very own Sagamore Academy, offering some 30 courses to ensure that their employees are among the best.  Apparently, others have taken notice, as other companies send their employees to Sagamore Academy, too.

Oh, by the way, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce set a benchmark, in my humble opinion, for how to run a tight, compelling event that delivered recognition to some worthy companies and individuals, and ensured that everyone left with some learnings and insights.

If you missed this year’s event, be sure to put this on your calendar next year.

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