You don’t have to tell Tom Rausch about the significance of change in a business organization.
After all, he’s adjusted the sails four times at Interactive Ink Inc. to deal with the unpredictable winds of the technology industry.
Now, he’s actually encouraging the 28 employees of his $2.8 million, e-business consulting and technology firm to avoid smooth sailing.
When his wife, Kathy, founded the business in 1994, its focus was dinosaurs — Theo the Dinosaur, to be exact, who was a character in the new-media programs the company produced for children.
In just a couple of years, however, the publisher, Panasonic Interactive Media, cut off business with small developers, taking away nearly 95 percent of the Rausches’ business.
“In about 1997, we went from flying high with them to our revenue stream gone,” Rausch says, admitting that although they saw it coming, they had only just started to prepare for the loss. It was the only year the company was not profitable.
Since then, Interactive Ink has continued to change with the industry, moving from Web site development to interactive marketing. Now, it is a consulting firm working to show clients such as J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp., Fortin Ironworks and CrimsonCup Coffee Roasters how to integrate e-business to help run their companies.
“We believe the ‘e’ is going to go away from ‘e-business’ and it’s just going to become ‘business,'” Rausch says.
Interactive Ink is using its years of flexibility to welcome change within, thanks in part to a relationship with national speaker Lou Pritchett, author of “Stop Paddling and Start Rocking the Boat.” When company executives met Pritchett at a seminar hosted by Commerce National Bank, they asked if he needed a Web site. He did. They developed one in exchange for a private, day-long seminar and workshop conducted by Pritchett on the subject of change management.
The result: Interactive Ink has “Boat Rockers” — committees of employees who come up with ideas on topics such as branding, customer service, fun and community involvement.
One of the Boat Rockers’ first moves was to implement a database-driven survey of every customer to monitor quality.
“They’re doing so much, and I don’t even have to think about it,” says Rausch. “I don’t have to do anything.”
Rausch would rather have involvement with his employees — and other business owners — in another role.
“I think the main job of a manager is to mentor,” he says.
Walter Doyle, president of Forest Capital and an investor and board member of Interactive Ink, calls Rausch a “real motivator of his people.”
“His troops are so excited,” Doyle says. “People under a manager take the lead from the personality and the person at the top. His organization does great things.”
Getting employees involved, Rausch says, does two things. First, their work becomes much more multifaceted, and second, they feel they’re making a contribution to a team and having their voice heard.
Employee development is strong, from quarterly reviews and discussion of leadership books to a personality profile test taken by everyone to learn the best way to communicate with each other.
“That’s another thing I find gratifying is when people say, ‘I’m learning every day here,'” Rausch says.
In fact, he’s trying to structure the company and its management in such a way that he can spend half of his own time doing community relations about business processes and employee involvement.
“I had him speak on search-engine optimization and, even more recently, on e-mail marketing,” says Interactive Ink client Rich Ottum, corporate vice president for new media at Highlights for Children Inc.
Ottum also points out Rausch’s involvement as a volunteer speaker and mentor for the Small Business Development Center and a member of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Council.
It’s not just business where Rausch makes his mentoring mark. As co-chair of the Rotary District 6690 youth exchange, he’s responsible for bringing more than 30 exchange students from other countries into Ohio and sending another 25 or so abroad each year, says Dave Kott, president of the Rotary Club of Westerville Sunrise and president of Asset Management Consultants Inc.
Kott relates a story of Rausch telling Rotary members about a Colombian student who had come into hard times because his father lost his job.
“When he was speaking to our club, he was speaking from the heart, which was pretty impressive to me,” Kott remembers. “We ended up raising over $500 to help him out.”
Rausch’s family has hosted exchange students — an experience Rausch says has given him insight. He watched his son, Ian, return from an exchange program in Ecuador with a new sophistication after seeing riots and living with a multimillionaire. His other son, Eric, is headed for Costa Rica this year.
“I have so much respect for these kids,” Rausch says. “As outgoing as I was as a kid, I don’t think I’d have had the guts to go to a totally different country, with a totally different language, with a totally different culture. When they come back, they see a wider range of possibilities of what they can do with their lives and the world.”
It’s a view Rausch tries to share with his employees and others.
“Life is too short to walk through it in quiet desperation, like Thoreau said. It doesn’t take much to find out what juices you and go after it,” Rausch says. “That’s what I get the most out of in this current position, is helping people grow.” How to reach: Tom Rausch, Interactive Ink Inc., 221-7089, ext. 20 or [email protected]
Joan Slattery Wall ([email protected]) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.