A Few Good Men and Women

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By KENT MARTIN

There are critical components to success in virtually every business. These include such factors as cash management, product development, attracting and keeping customers — and hiring the best employees.

To Larry Bossidy, former chief operating officer of General Electric, “Nothing is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people, not strategies.”

While many employers look for skill and talent when choosing their next employee, one key ingredient is frequently overlooked: Personality. A personality test can offer an employer vital insight into personality and emotional intelligence, which can’t always be identified in an in-person, one-on-one interview. These tests provide an employer with a psychological analysis of an individual’s character prior to employment.

The use of personality tests in hiring decisions has increased in recent years. As a result, the market for these tests has expanded. There are numerous personality tests available today, ranging from the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to Conscientiousness and the Caliper Profile.

In 2011, almost 56 percent of all companies were using some form of personality testing in their hiring, a jump of 8 percent over 2010. The biggest reason for this rise may be growing security and workplace violence concerns, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But just as significantly, companies of all sizes are recognizing that they need to dig more deeply into their candidates’ character to more accurately determine their potential.

Critical to Success

“We recognize that improving on hiring and selection is critical to our franchisees’ success,” Chris Fox, chief operating officer of United Financial Services Group, said.

This is why he said his company, one of the largest franchisors of retail check cashing centers in the United States, chose Hireology, Inc., to manage the company’s hiring processes across its 130 franchise locations.

Hireology provides a SaaS-based selection management platform that enables franchisees to more effectively manage their hiring process system wide. (SaaS is otherwise known as Software As A Service, a software delivery system that provides access to software and its functions remotely as a Web-based service.)

“Anytime you can get another piece of information, another piece of the puzzle figured out on a candidate, the more likely you are to make a sound choice,” Margot Baill, product development director for Hireology, said.

“With personality assessment, you not only get to know how somebody reacts in certain types [of situations], but you also know their tendencies to what types of things they’ll be motivated to do.

“In the world of check cashing, I think personality is probably more critical than most other industries, because you’re going to have somebody who is face-to-face interacting with customers and you want to make sure it’s a personality that can a) deal well with other types of people, and can adapt to other personalities’ styles, but b) it’s important to figure out how to motivate that person.”

Fox said his company’s franchisees will be able to utilize Hireology’s selection management platform, Selection Manager. It includes job profiling, skills testing, behavioral interviews and verification services such as reference and background checks.

Fox said Hireology was selected because of its “strong offering, low implementation costs and deep experience in the franchise space.”

Those who testify to the benefits of personality tests point to one aspect of an individual’s character that cannot be determined in an in-person interview: Their EQ, or emotional intelligence, not to be confused with a person’s IQ. Baill said this is particularly critical in the check cashing industry.

“What’s interesting is for positions in check cashing, EQ tends to be more predictive of success because you’re dealing with more people face-to-face, you have to know how to adapt your style to meet the needs of every customer who have their own different styles and preferences,” she said.

“While IQ can help you understand the in’s and out’s of a product, it can’t necessarily tell you how to adapt to a certain style.”

Range of Tests

Cost is a major differentiator in selection of personality tests by a company. There is a wide range of tests available on today’s market, from programs that are available for free online to others costing from $100 up to $5,000 per employee candidate.

Baill suggests you get what you pay for. “The problem with the ones you find online, such as Myers-Briggs, is they’re not very job-specific,” she said. “And they can’t tell you how well somebody’s going to perform in a certain job.”

The Inside Story of Tom Nix’s Pioneering Career

-By CHARLENE KOMAR STOREY

The ungainly title of Tom Nix’s new book does spell it out: Nixland: My Wild Ride in the Inner City Check Cashing Industry. It is, indeed, about Nix’s fabulously successful career as a check casher in inner city Los Angeles.

The tale of building and running the Nix empire is far from a boring one. But interesting as the business angle is, both to industry insiders and business people in general, there are other fascinating aspects to the story.

The Nix family never started out to be check cashers. The author’s father, Thomas E. Nix, was a sales manager for a company that that ran home service bakery routes.

It’s common knowledge that there used to be milkmen who would deliver dairy products to homes early every morning. But not everyone knows that, at least in some areas, there also were men who would carry their oversized baskets to each door so homemakers could choose everything from fresh bread to coffeecake.

In those days, although the majority of mothers stayed at home, most families managed with only a single car and children tethered mom to the house.

Most drivers owned their own trucks and operated like a franchise. In 1966, the company the senior Nix worked for was sold to one more than three times its size. Not all the route drivers liked the deal, and Thomas Nix Bakery Distributor began operating to supply them. The two Nix sons worked in the company as well.

A bakery thrift store opened as part of the company to handle the day-old products. As more families bought second cars and supermarkets expanded, home service suffered. Nix added more groceries to the store so drivers could augment their bakery stock and increase sales to the customers that remained. Still, it wasn’t long before the route drivers turned off their trucks for the last time.

Switch to Grocery

The Nix store was changed into a full-service mom-and-pop grocery store named the Mini Mart. They developed a three-pronged business strategy. First came cheap bread. Because of Nix’s connections in the bakery industry, they were able to get bread cheap, and they sold it for the same low price. Sometimes they cut the price even more and used the bread as a loss leader.

Second was top-notch service. The Nixes were all extremely friendly with shoppers, and made sure they hired only warm, friendly people. “It was a joy to shop at the Mini Mart,” Nix brags.

Third came, yes, check cashing, but again, with a difference. Unlike supermarkets, the Mini Mart wasn’t restrictive in its policies, and unlike liquor stores, it didn’t charge a fee.

Innovative Approaches

The Nixes pioneered the use of free photo ID cards for those without driver’s licenses, allowing them to cash checks quickly and easily. They also first used the Photoscope to capture the customer and his or her check on the same frame.

What’s more, they found ways to allow people who lacked conventional ID to cash checks, from having women with kids bring in a child’s birth certificate to compare signatures to allowing co-signers to guarantee checks.

In the 1970s, banks began analyzing their accounts to determine which ones cost them more then earned. They added fees to make up the difference, and Nix, like other account holders that cashed a lot of checks, suddenly found themselves hard hit. They had to pass on the expense to their customers.

They started charging a quarter per check, then raised it after a year to 35 cents. Volume wasn’t affected. That raised the idea that check cashing could do more than attract grocery buyers — it could be a profit center on its own.

The Nixes began to charge a fee of 1 percent of the face value of each check. Volume skidded by a quarter, but over three or four months, it climbed back most of the way. The move was a success.

Only?Check Cashing

Then Tom Nix proved the value of thinking outside the box. He came up with the idea of opening a free-standing, drive-through check cashing facility.

His father thought he was crazy, and it took some time to bring the founder around. But eventually, the Nixes transformed an old gas station that had been turned into an auto repair shop into the first Nix Check Cashing.

The check cashing chain was run by people brought up through the ranks at the Mini Mart. The philosophy of friendliness and respect for the customer was imported as well — an approach that would show its value both in building the business and in keeping it from being quite literally destroyed when inner city Los Angeles burned.

The innovation and risk-taking that characterized the beginning of Nix Check Cashing continued throughout its life, until its sale to, of all things, a credit union. Nix’s abortive efforts to team with Western Union to set up a nationwide check cashing chain, and the threatening situation that resulted, would make a story all its own. So would his hair-raising experiences in the Los Angeles riots, from rescuing besieged employees to securing large amounts of cash as the city went to pieces around them.

One of a Kind

While anyone in the industry should read this book for those episodes alone, what makes the book stand out is Nix himself. It’s not just that he admits that he made mistakes, from overextending his business to trusting city officials after being warned that they wouldn’t keep their word. Many business executives would glide over those events, but there are others who would admit to them, too. But Nix is one of a kind.

Nix’s well-earned image as a hard-driving businessman is underscored by the tales of his upbringing and brawling ways as a young man. But then Nix surprises you by revealing his long-held belief in the usefulness of self-help tapes. You’re sure that his toughness will bring him through the worst dangers of the riots, but you’re taken aback when Nix credits meditation for helping him hold things together.

The book never really brings together the disparate sides of Nix’s personality; in fact, it creates some doubt that Nix has done that himself. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating look at a complex individual who landed in a unusual and challenging industry at a time when it was changing — and who was responsible for a great deal of that change himself.

KISS Complexity Good-Bye

By RICHARD B. KELSKY

“Keep It Simple, Stupid” or “KISS” was the brainchild of an engineer at Lockheed as a guide for technical projects. It works equally well in life.

If you think about it, when things have gone wrong for you, complexity was probably a big factor. That’s why “keep it simple” is a mantra for a great life.

Take the hail damage to your car. An “Act of God,” right? Except that it happened when it was parked outside your girlfriend’s house when it should have been parked inside your garage — next to your wife’s car.

And that time you slipped off the treadmill at the gym? Anyone can miss a step … except you did because you were flirting with that hunk one treadmill over.

Last week’s fender-bender? That idiot in front of you stopped short —while you were texting. And that cop who should never have pulled you over and given you a DUI? You guessed it – that extra round of shots — complexity.

Same in Business

The same thing happens in business. Some folks take the simple route: set up a corporation, get insurance, put employees on the books and pay taxes.

Others make it complex: only accept cash, pay their workers off the books, and hope the IRS doesn’t figure out that their monthly expenses are more than their annual reported income.

Some get away with it, at least for a while. Even if they do, when they reach 65 they can’t stop working because they don’t have a retirement plan and their contributions to Social Security were so small that they’ll collect only gas money each month.

Steve Jobs lived by simplicity, even though it took an effort to get there: “That’s been one of my mantras —focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Here and Now

While all of that stuff makes for interesting philosophical conversation, let’s focus on the here and now of being a Financial Service Business. Ask yourself if you are making your day-to-day business operations more complex than they need to be.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to assist after a cash loss or during or after an audit with problems such as fraud, compliance (lack thereof), OPM (Other People’s Money), cash, liquidity, net worth and on and on.

Here’s one you’ll appreciate: I get a call late on a Friday night, long after I’m asleep, the voice on the message filled with panic and despair – an audit going badly and getting worse. I return the call early Saturday, expecting to find the caller in their store, working feverishly to get things straightened out – but it is answered poolside at a resort in the Caribbean.

“Rich, I need your help. I didn’t file some CTRs. It was my compliance officer’s fault; he’s a moron. The auditor is coming back in two weeks. What should I do?”

I resist the temptation to say what my father would have said, “You should have minded the store. You shouldn’t be on vacation.”

Instead, I start asking hard questions, most of which go unanswered. We agree to speak on Monday.

No call on Monday. The next time I hear from him, he tells me he’s selling the store and asks if I know of a job for him.

Ignoring responsibilities, letting problems pile up and avoiding dealing with issues brings complexity — a violation of the life rule of KISS.

Take Detroit for example. In denial of its economic crisis for years, it finally hired an Emergency Manager — Kevin Orr — who had Detroit file for bankruptcy. In an interview, Orr observed, “Delay doesn’t produce positive outcomes.”

Following the Rules

I admit that I might be considered a bit anal when it comes to following the rules. But there’s good reason for that. As a product of a ‘70s education and an ‘80s entry into the business world, I saw many of my peers cross the line —and some get into real trouble.

I always preferred to accept my losses as reality, picking up the pieces and moving forward. I realized that crossing the line produced complexity, and complexity meant risk, and risk meant trouble.

I’m not saying that I have had no complexity. A different kind of complexity. Mine was caused by work — too much of it. Day-trips to California and overnights in Europe. Time was my enemy. I slept less and less, and worked more and more.

A doctor friend recently reminded me that back in the 80s I said that I could train myself not to sleep. I got my sleeping down to 2.5 hours a night.

Product of Complexity

All of that was a product of complexity. I thought that I could counteract complexity by extending my workday to 18 hours. When I woke up behind the wheel, heading for a guardrail, I knew that was something I had to fix (luckily, I missed the guardrail).

By the way, when it came to school, I never, ever, did homework, and I crammed for every exam. It ultimately (and luckily) didn’t hurt my future, but if I had it to do all over again, I would study every night. I know now that it would have been far less complex and far less stressful.

When I started working after law school, I took the opposite approach. I did everything that was expected of me and more. I have maintained that daily work ethic to this day. It makes things much easier.

So when you’re told you need to do something for FinCEN, a state regulator, a bank, or your wire transfer or prepaid partners, just do it. Stop behaving like me in high school. You may find that doing what’s expected or required makes it a whole lot easier to run your business, because you are not spending time making excuses and managing self-created complexity.

Work at It

Whatever the cause of your personal complexity, the removal of complexity is a slow process that requires daily attention. You have to work at it constantly. You have to jealously guard your life from self-created complexity and invitations to complexity delivered by others.

Since we all bring complexity into our lives every once in a while, don’t be too hard on yourself if it happens rarely and the punishment is not too severe. But if it happens regularly, with high risk, and bad results, it’s time to get a grip.

Some indicators you may recognize are inability to sleep, irrational anxiety, overreaction and anger.

So Keep It Simple, Smartguy.

 

Richard Kelsky is president of TellerMetrix, a provider of POS transaction, compliance, interface, electronic deposit and marketing software to check cashers, payday lenders and retail banks. He is also a New York and Connecticut Bar member, a Polytechnic Institute of NYU and NY Law School grad, a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist and a frequent lecturer on business, legal, compliance, and technology issues. He can be reached at rkelsky@tellermetrix.com. This article does not constitute legal advice and is an expression of opinion by the author and not of any entity or organization.