People making a difference: Steve Korman
With the US mired in a deep recession, this CEO is challenging fellow business leaders to resist layoffs.
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As mass layoffs continue, Korman has called on Mr. Obama to consult regularly with the nation's top 50 CEOs for guidance on how he can help businesses keep people working. In fact, Korman would like to meet Obama himself. He believes that when the president criticized business travel earlier this year, he imperiled the livelihoods of huge numbers of people working in travel, which Korman says dwarfs the auto industry in terms of jobs.Skip to next paragraph
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The letter-writing campaign, and its up-with-people approach, are "pure Steve Korman," says Steve Klein, a friend since fourth grade. "His point was that maybe we don't need to make the last dollar."
Richard Keaveny, CEO of MANNA, a nonprofit agency in Philadelphia that delivers special nutrition to the seriously ill and whose advisory board Korman chairs, agrees. "He is the eternal optimist. He sees the best in people at all times," Mr. Keaveny says. "And he is a down-to-the-basics kind of guy. He knows everyone needs food, clothing, shelter, a job, and a purpose."
Sister Mary Scullion, the cofounder of Project H.O.M.E., with whom Korman and his family work to help the poor and homeless in Philadelphia, agrees. "Steve understands that [having] a job is just so essential to your quality of life," she explains.
A graduate of Penn State University, Korman is CEO of a 500-employee, fourth-generation, privately owned hotel, residential, and commercial real estate firm begun by his grandfather, which he now runs with his three sons.
Slender, wearing a baby blue sweater, with his white hair brushed back, he sits at the conference table of his suburban corporate headquarters, overlooking the ribbons of highway that offer quick access to the company's properties up and down the East Coast.
Korman doesn't want it to be thought that he is against firing people. That's fine if they're not performing or if the company is in danger of going under. "All I'm asking [CEOs] to do is think," he says. Keeping good people makes good business sense. Talent is then on board and ready to go when business conditions improve.
Without company loyalty to workers, even workers who may have survived cuts once or twice sense the company is saying "you're not important to us," Korman says. "We really are our brother's keeper." Public corporations have less leeway, he acknowledges. Wall Street wants to see quarterly profits, often at the expense of long-term corporate health. But Korman is convinced that if CEOs will only explain that what is good for employees is good for business, investors will sign on. "It's smart communication that wins the day," he says.
Find niches where people in downsizing departments can ride out the storm, he advises. Urge everyone to think of new ways of selling. Your half-full glass might even spill over and water the entire garden.
After all, it was his last-ditch inspiration in an earlier downturn that inadvertently launched a new industry. Stuck with a struggling property, Korman furnished the units and made the building into a novelty, serving people who needed more than a hotel room but less than a permanent home. The now-familiar "extended-stay" concept was born.
"Bad times can create great results," says Korman, the people person and optimist. •