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Ceo of tnt expense management: happenstance and strong childhood values lead to business success

CEO of TNT Expense Management: Happenstance and Strong Childhood Values Lead to Business Success

Growing up in a very poor Brooklyn neighbourhood, Michael had a happy childhood “since I knew no better.” His parents were Italian immigrants working in factories and living according to old-world values that kept Michael and his siblings away from the bandwagon of kids who went the wrong way. After graduating from East New York Vocational high school, where he took electrical and computer classes, Michael continued his education at the Technical Career Institute, then got his first job as a technician for ITT Communications.

Meanwhile, Michael’s personal life was about to change his professional plans. After two years of marriage, he and his wife were expecting a son whom he wanted to raise away from New York. It happened that Electronic Mail Corporation of America (EMCA) needed technical assistance moving their offices from Manhattan to Connecticut; Michael moved with them, staying as an engineer and senior engineer manager. He devoted the following twelve years to working for consumer-services company CUC International, where he ran voice and data networks, and continued building his knowledge base. The company entered into a merger after tremendous growth; he asked for a departure package and by that afternoon was already doing consulting work.

Although Michael never meant to make consultation his primary work, this stage of his career ended up being vital for his future. “I never had the intent of starting a company; it sort of just fell in my lap. Now I don’t know if I could go back to working for someone.” His company, TNT Expense Management, began with a team of three people. Due to his reputation among clients, the phone calls kept rolling in, and after a short while he had to recruit additional people to fulfil the demand. Overnight, without any previous expectations, his consulting work became a full-fledged business. Michael remembers the moment when he realized this and the anecdote that marked it: “We had just signed a client with a market capitalization of $100 billion, there were only three of us in the company, and we had a server running on a file cabinet in a basement. That’s when we realized this was going to be a company, and not just a few of us doing consulting.”

Today, TNT Expense Management coordinates the telecommunications of large companies, reducing their costs and assuring that companies pay only for what they should be paying. Among the techniques used are sourcing of contract negotiations, bill auditing, processing of invoices and making optimization recommendations about how to reduce costs. TNT’s clients are mostly Fortune 500 and several Fortune 50 companies, and Michael proudly relates that his business has almost 100% client retention. What is his secret? “Reputation, reputation, reputation.” What brought prestigious names to TNT’s roster was performance at an in-depth level and finding the maximum savings for its clients. Although the company has only about 85 employees, it does business on the level of billion-dollar corporations. As Michael puts it, “Big companies expect you to be structured, formal and at their level in your work and communication with them.” Having a quality staff has proven to be crucial. Even though TNT has a significantly smaller staff than what one would expect from a company that generates $10-12 million in revenue, the selection of employees was anything but random. When asked what brought his company to success, Michael replies: “Having the right people. Make sure you spot the right people and make them happy.” When it comes to efficient and professional employees, it’s a matter of knowing what they are doing, and in a conscientious way. With such an approach, no wonder TNT has grown to become an “ethical, customer-focused company.”

Still, the cherry on top of the large-corporation-client cake is not always sweet. Clients have high demands and the job can become stressful. In those moments, it’s important to stay on track. “Don’t make decisions in a panic mode.” On the other hand, sometimes the issue is not in the task’s difficulty so much as in the client’s temperament. Michael happens to have a remedy for that situation as well. “Growing up where I did exposed me to a lot of different personalities, income levels and backgrounds. That was very helpful to me later on in life because in business you deal with a lot of different types of people. If you can see past someone who is being obnoxious, see where that person’s coming from and why they’re coming off that way, you will be able to respond in a way that makes that person calm down.”

Ultimate career choices are not necessarily those made in one’s twenties, nor do they always require the skills possessed at that point in life. A good CEO and businessman must have well-developed people-smarts to recruit key employees and effectively communicate with clients. And of course, every now and then, not take things too seriously.

Not advice one would give to a heart surgeon, but often the best tonic in business.

 

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