Plenty of business gurus are willing to spout ideas on how to grow a business, or how to create a positive corporate culture, or even how to grow sales.
On Thursday night, nearly 300 people attending the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting heard not from a business school guru, but from someone who is doing it in the real world — on a nearly billion-dollar scale.
Jennifer Mauldin, president and chief client officer of Inmar Intelligence, was the keynote speaker for the 62nd annual meeting, held at Cross Creek Country Club. There, she shared some of her insights gleaned from a career at the firm, helping it grow from a $30 million a year business to one that bills nearly $1 billion annually.
First on her list is to make sure your business practices are “led by your client needs.”
She explained how that philosophy has been a driver of success at Inmar. Her firm, she explained, was one that developed and manages software which some of the nation’s largest retailers and manufacturers.
At its essence, she said retailers will often print discount coupons, the ones in this weekend’s Mount Airy News would be examples, and customers use these coupons when they shop. Her software will track the coupons once they are used at a store, ensuring retailers get payment from manufacturers for the coupon discounts given, and that retailers get only the amount of money they are due.
That technology, she explained, revolutionized the business practices of manufacturers and retailers — prior to her firm, retailers would simply bag and weigh the coupons, and then submit invoices for reimbursement for the number of coupons collected based on that weight measurement. This practice left manufacturers open to overcharges through unintentional, and sometimes intentional, fraud.
Over the years, she said, her firm discovered pharmacies were having difficulty getting proper reimbursement payments from insurance companies, often carrying those reimbursements as receivables due on their balance sheets rather than actually getting the money.
Inmar, she said, saw this and adapted its technology to be able to track — and get — the proper insurance payments due to pharmacies.
This, she said, was an example of her business seeing a potential client need, and then adapting its process and software to meet the client.
“We were dealing with businesses who had a business problem,” she said of Inmar’s expansion. “We didn’t go into a think-tank to come up with a new business” that might not meet client needs, she said.
Another key, she told those at the meeting, is to embrace technology and understand that will mean constant change and challenge.
As an example, she showed images on a screen depicting how something as simple as getting messages for a business person has changed. Twenty years ago, if a person left the office for lunch, he or she may return to find a pink “While you were gone” memo on the desk.
Along the years that gave way to big bulky bag phones individuals could carry with them, then Blackberries, and now Smart Phones — where one can not only receive messages while on the go, but set up and operate from just about any remote location using only the phone.
That technology change — and the speed with which change will occur — will continue to accelerate to far greater degrees in coming years, including the infiltration of artificial intelligence into just about every business field.
“If AI is not on your radar, you will be left behind,” she cautioned.
A third key, she said, is placing an emphasis on diversity and equality initiatives, to bring in folks from different cultural, education, and personal backgrounds.
It is that diversity within one’s workforce which is a key to growth, to finding ways to adapt to the constant change of the world.
Chris Lumsden, president and CEO of Northern Hospital who served as the chamber’s board chairman during 2021, was the first speaker of the night, welcoming the 270 people attending the meeting.
Lumsden remarked on the challenges the chamber and the entire Mount Airy business community has faced over the past three years, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic, and on how much respect and admiration he has for the leadership and professionalism of outgoing chair, Connie Hamlin.
Despite all of the positive attributes of Surry County — the top-flight schools, the abundance of outdoor activities, two award-winning hospitals, and a long line of other attributes he listed — he said what makes it one of the best communities in the United States “is the people.”
“I know firsthand what a great community you have here in Surry County,” he said. “I know the quality and goodness of the people we have here in Surry County.”
Hamlin, in her remarks, thanked the chamber for “the opportunity to serve.” She said she considered it an honor to have been the chamber’s president over the past year, an “opportunity to be part of an elite group of leaders.”
Lenise Lynch, who officially took over as board chair Thursday evening, said she is excited for the opportunity to work with so many other leaders and business people in leading the chamber over the coming twelve months.
Lynch emphasized several times during her address how critical it is for all to work together as a cohesive unit.
“We are all part of a larger cause,” she said, before repeating the phrase “Teamwork makes the dream work,” which became an oft-repeated refrain during the evening. “Alone we can do little,” she said, before adding that working together the chamber — or any other organization — can do much.
With that, she led her new team — the new and returning members of the chamber’s board of directors — into taking the oath of office and getting ready to launch into the new business year.