Lessons from Leaders: Jim Cederna

Upper Peninsula native, CEO and business coach, Jim Cederna talks to InvestUP about the 3 Ingredients to Business Success

Upper Peninsula, MI (December 11, 2020) Iron River native Jim Cederna knows business. His decades of experience cover a wide array of positions, including CEO and Chairman of top Fortune 500 companies. From startups to turnarounds to mergers and acquisitions, Jim’s career focused on businesses needing major change. He is a problem solver whose practical, real-world techniques can harness the power of teamwork to boost sales and profits. 

Since retiring as a CEO, Jim formed his company, Cederna International, and became a business coach for CEOs and their teams across the Upper Peninsula and beyond. InvestUP board member Karyn Olsson, CEO of Houghton-based Marketing Department Inc., has been mentoring with Jim for over ten years.  She notes, “Jim is straight-up brilliant at what he does. He’s insightful and innovative. Working with Jim is like having the expertise of all the faculty of a top business school right at your fingertips. My business is stronger today because of Jim.”

From nearly 50 years of working in “Corporate America”, Jim has learned from others a thing or two about the importance of a healthy company culture and how it can lead to success. Through his experience, he has identified three “ingredients” that he believes leaders should focus on to grow a profitable business.

1. Define a clear plan for growth

The most important thing a leader can do for their employees, families, customers, communities, suppliers and themselves is to keep successfully growing their business. After all, a growing company will continue to create good jobs, resulting in profitable owners and engaged employees.

He explains, “If your business is not growing, you’re going out of business. It may take a year or two or more, but if you’re not growing, you’re going out of business. When creating a plan for growth, consider your potential opportunities and how to realize them.”

2. Attract and retain people who can successfully implement the plan

One you’ve established your path to success, you must find the right people to work with you to get you there. When your employees believe in your values, they’ll be eager to work together to bring the company to success.

Jim reflects on a memorable past experience, “The best business turnaround I ever saw was in the European operations of a company. They had great strengths, but  no one in Europe wanted to work as a team with people in other parts of the world. After sharing their individual strengths and experience, they found ways to help each other solve problems and get plans done faster and better. They demonstrated  that a powerful team is a collection of strengths focused on their plan together. Europe and the global company then saw its best years — financially and culturally.”

3. Create a workplace culture where employees are most productive

Culture is the most important key ingredient for business success. “Some people believe that you can’t measure culture,” Jim says. “That’s absolutely not true. Leaders can measure and then improve culture. Leaders can use simple proven tools like internal surveys to evaluate how their company core values are being followed.  Providing 360 degree feedback for themsleves and employees to help them understand how their behaviors match expectations is very helpful. In businesses with a solid culture, leaders are highly trusted, employees are held accountable for their results and behaviors, everyone is performing well… and people enjoy going to work and doing their best.

While Jim encourages all business leaders to follow this formula for business growth, he has one last bit of advice.  He also encourages leaders to ask more questions. He explains, “I often get asked, ‘If you could go back and start your career all over again, what would you do differently?’ I would ask more questions. Once you become a leader, you feel you need to have the answers. If you slow down and ask others for their input, it’s amazing what you hear and learn.”

Best wishes for growth of your business in the best place in America, the U.P. We all need it!

About InvestUP

InvestUP is a private sector-led economic development organization keenly focused on driving economic growth across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Founded by the region’s leading private sector businesses and the region’s universities, its mission is to deliver business and job growth across the peninsula.


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