Fasha Mahjoor is the CEO of global separations company, Phenomenex. SelectScience® spoke to Fasha to ask him about the secrets to his success. Here are his top five tips:
1. Stay focused
I’ve seen many companies over the last 35 years lose focus by trying to be everything to everybody. When you try to spread your expertise too thinly, in too many areas, you inevitably lose focus. It’s true that Phenomenex has diversified, but at our core we are still very much a chromatography consumables company. For example, over the years we have had opportunities to go into instrumentation, but we decided to remain focused on our consumable business. Keeping our focus has allowed us to be the absolute experts in our field, enabling us to continue to serve our customers in the best way that we can.
2. Understand your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses
When you understand your competitor’s main strengths and weaknesses, you know where to concentrate your efforts. Understanding the weaknesses in other businesses, allows you to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes. Similarly, you can learn from the strengths of others to continue to improve. For example, in the early days we were trying to compete against some very large, well established companies. I noticed that every competitor was trying to focus on the prime geographical areas of growth (e.g. New Jersey, New York, Illinois and California). But no one was concentrating on the states of Dakota, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah etc. These states were much quieter, however we focused our efforts on those areas and we were welcomed by the scientists there. So while the competition was too busy killing themselves in more lucrative states we quickly and easily entered and took majority market share. While the market size was very small in these states, it added up to a very large sum which gave us a lot of revenue and the financial foundation for growth in more competitive states. These customers are still very important to us and we continue to serve and support them to this day.
3. Set the highest possible standards
Regardless of what you do, you should always set extremely high standard in everything that you do, from how you provide your service, to how you deliver your products etc. Even once you’re achieving this, this level of excellence has to be constantly improved upon. I think this is absolutely key to the success of any company.
4. Break with tradition
Don’t just follow what everyone else is doing. In particular, one should ask questions about everything, rather than following the leaders in the industry like sheep. Common sense is extremely important of course, but you must also look for innovative solutions. Bringing something new and refreshing to the market in way of product, advertising and often times services is always more attractive than doing the “norm” which is the same thing that everyone else does. An example of this is the fact that at Phenomenex, we put all of our managers on the front-line in sales. This is not a common strategy, but we do this because it is vital for those managers to understand what our customers need and want. No matter which department of our company they end up working in, this experience helps them to truly understand how difficult it is to gain customers’ trust and how to provide the best possible service to our customers.
5. Respect your team
The success of Phenomenex is due to the success of our team. At Phenomenex we culture an environment in which our colleagues have the maximum opportunity for development. Many of our team started here directly out of college and they have stayed with us for more than 20 years. We achieve this by creating a welcoming environment, encouraging personal growth and progression, and by celebrating in their successes. The senior managers in our business have worked their way up from lower levels and have worked in many different departments. This really helps them to understand how the business works and thrives.
SS: What were the key milestones or moments that defined Phenomenex’s success?
FM: There are many key moments in our past, but one that springs immediately to mind is from many years ago, when the company was only a few years old. I was thinking about how to increase sales and I thought to myself, what do customers really want? So we created a booklet, an HPLC troubleshooting guide for scientists. I gave away this guide for free, on the condition that the customer had to answer a short survey. When the postman came to our office a few days later, carrying two huge bags of mail, we thought it must be a mistake! But contained in these bags were thousands of response forms, the information from which gave us an incredible insight into what our customers were really looking for. This gave us an incredible starting point to provide the solutions that scientists actually wanted.
Another milestone moment for us was related to our distributary channel in Canada. Every company, whether large or small, looks to distributors if they want to expand into new regions. But instead of going down this route, I wanted to provide for our customers “next door” (in Canada) personally. So I advertised that any customer could order directly from Phenomenex, in US or Canadian dollars just to make it even easier for them, and we would deliver free of charge within 48 hours. This direct route (the cost of which we absorbed), was a lot of work for us, but it was extremely attractive to our customers. For a little extra effort on our part, we managed to greatly improve customer service, attracted a large amount of new business and fairly quickly managed to gain the lion’s share of the market. There really wasn’t anything magical about the idea and others could have done the same, but often times companies tend to simply follow what has been a tradition and don’t even wish to think about other, and many times far simpler and better, ideas.
SS: At SelectScience we publish independent reviews of laboratory equipment. Are these scientific reviews useful to you as a company?
FM: Customer reviews are absolutely critical to our success. We are very aware of what our customers think, but generating impartial, independent reviews from those customers is crucial. If you’re oblivious to what your customers say you may as well lock the door and throw away the key!
SS: Which piece of advice would you offer to a budding science industry entrepreneur?
FM: Always run a democratic operation. Let every member of the team have their say, and create an open invitation for everyone in the company to contribute, critique, and be involved in the consultation process. But at the same time, you must be fully aware of everything that is happening in your business, and pay great attention to detail.
SS: You recently announced that Phenomenex is to be sold to Danaher, why did you choose Danaher and how does the future look for your company?
FM: Over the past 20 years there hasn’t been a single large organization that hasn’t wanted to buy Phenomenex. I chose Danaher because it is the only company that has completely synergistic business goals. Danaher is not a competitor to Phenomenex and only buys best-in-class businesses. Our collaboration with Danaher will secure all jobs at Phenomenex, the company will remain as a standalone independent business with its own identity and logo, we will continue doing business as before and with Danaher’s backing we shall have even further growth which will create far greater opportunities for the staff who work for us.
SS: What does this business partnership mean for your scientific customers?
FM: There really will be no change to our customers, Phenomenex will continue to operate as it is, nationally and internationally. However, we shall work closer (but at “arm’s length”) with our long term partner, Sciex, which is also a Danaher company. This will enable both Sciex and Phenomenex to provide scientists with a far greater and much more complete solution.