Nottingham Spirk: From Working with Family to Keeping the Innovative Fire Burning

Did you miss the recent Business Growth Boot Camp featuring Nottingham Spirk? Keep reading to learn their key takeaways to maintaining innovation and working with family.

Maintaining innovation over time, working with family, and knowing how to keep the motivational fires burning were just three of the topics addressed recently by the innovation experts at Nottingham Spirk during COSE’s recent “Business Growth Boot Camp: Creating a Culture of Innovation to Drive Business Growth.” Read on below for a deeper understanding of these issues and how Nottingham Spirk’s Co-Founder and Co-President John Spirk and his son Evan, director of open innovation, have used innovative tactics to make their company a success.

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    RELATED: Learn how One Cleveland Company Turned Innovation into Billions in Revenue

    How it all began
    The discussion began with learning how Nottingham Spirk got started. John Spirk met his partner, John Nottingham, at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he earned his undergrad degree. The two graduated and both had jobs lined up to start after they returned from a trip overseas, but while they were in Milan, Italy, they decided they would rather take a risk and start their own business.

    The two started Nottingham Spirk in a small garage where they spent the first five to six years working before moving to what is now the Case Western Reserve Alumni House. The building they currently work in is in University Circle and was once an old, Catholic church. The design of this building has more of an impact on how they look at innovation than you might think.

    John mentioned “vertical innovation” which refers to the building’s structure of five floors. The top floor is where the magic happens—it is where they work through different ideas. In contrast, the bottom floor is where the product and services are being developed and made. The key here is that each floor is a different department, or a different stage in the product’s lifecycle. Each department must work together to ensure they meet the client’s needs and goals.

    The team is critical
    So how does this tie into maintaining a culture of innovation over time? John’s main point on this topic was that the team is critical. You must hire the right people because they are what determines a successful company. After all, they are the ones taking the messages from the leaders, collaborating and using their expertise to make something great. So, what’s it like when you bring family into the mix? John and Evan would agree to make sure to only bring in family members that want to be there and hold them to a higher standard.

    A family affair
    Evan didn’t start out his career at Nottingham Spirk. In fact, he started his career as a photojournalist where he interned at the Boston Globe. It was around 2001 when he had his “A-ha” moment and decided to come back to Cleveland and give innovation a shot. When he asked his dad, “Can I try?” his dad said, “Yeah, but you have to go back to college.”

    Fast forward to 2017. Evan has been in the family business for more than 14 years as a designer, program manager, and now director of open innovation. It hasn’t always been easy though. Because Evan is the boss’ son, he said he tries to work harder to prove he isn’t just there because of who is father is. He holds himself to higher standards to prove he doesn’t have what he does just because of his dad.

    Stay passionate
    What keeps the fire burning? John and Evan agree you must be passionate about what you’re doing. You have to work with people who are also passionate about what they are doing. If they’re passionate, they’ll work really hard. And don’t forget to trust them while they’re doing it.

    The Business Growth Boot Camp series is just one example of the informative programming COSE provides each year. View a full list of upcoming events on the COSE Events page by clicking here.

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    Next up: Selling to the CIO Part 1

    Selling to the CIO Part 1

    Tom Lucas, CIO of Sherwin-Williams, George Mehok, CIO of Revol Wireless and Pete Regan, Director with IBM share their insight into getting the attention of, and selling to, CIOs.

    Tom Lucas, CIO of Sherwin-Williams, George Mehok, CIO of Revol Wireless and Pete Regan, Director with IBM share their insight into getting the attention of, and selling to, CIOs.

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    Next up: Selling to the CIO Part 2

    Selling to the CIO Part 2

    This is part 2 of our Selling to the CIO session featuring Tom Lucas (Sherwin-Williams), George Mehok (Revol) and Pete Reagan (IBM).

    This is part 2 of our Selling to the CIO session featuring Tom Lucas (Sherwin-Williams), George Mehok (Revol) and Pete Reagan (IBM).

    Listen here.

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    Next up: Strategic Implications of the Chief Digital Officer

    Strategic Implications of the Chief Digital Officer

    What are the strategic implications of the role of Chief Digital Officer and how does it affect your company and your strategies? Is this a role that needs to be developed at your company? 

    Information roles in companies are constantly evolving; in fact the very existence of the CIO role evolved out of changes in business technologies many years ago. Rapidly advancing changes in information technology, particularly around digital connections to customers, partners, vendors and more has led to a new role: Chief Digital Officer. 

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    What are the strategic implications of the role of Chief Digital Officer and how does it affect your company and your strategies? Is this a role that needs to be developed at your company? 

    Paul Stefanuk, partner with Paul-Lawrence, a national executive search firm, shares insight into this developing role. What industries are embracing this change? Where does it fit organizationally? How does the role drive enterprise performance and how does it interface with traditional information technology operations?

    Listen here.


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    Next up: The 3 'I's' of Leadership

    The 3 'I's' of Leadership

    There are so many different views and perspectives on leadership—so many that I sometimes wonder how anyone is supposed to discern the essentials. At the same time, it’s important to have some leadership foundations that you can use to build your own leadership model, and the simpler the better. Enter the three “I’s” of leadership:

    There are so many different views and perspectives on leadership—so many that I sometimes wonder how anyone is supposed to discern the essentials. At the same time, it’s important to have some leadership foundations that you can use to build your own leadership model, and the simpler the better. Enter the three “I’s” of leadership:

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    • Intention
    • Influence
    • Impact

    With clarity around these three leadership “I’s” you will have a firm foundation for whatever leadership role you’re playing, no matter the arena where you’re serving as a leader.

    Intention—Leaders are intentional. Leaders live and lead on purpose. They are thoughtful and discerning when it comes to who they are and what they’re seeking to achieve. History has shown us that leaders can influence people, but often their leadership is more about playing a role than purposefully creating outcomes and impacts. In other words, these leaders use their influence without thoughtful intentions. If you want to be an effective leader, being intentional in all aspects of your leadership will serve you (and those you serve) well.

    Influence—Leadership is about influence, and the essence of influence is being a person that people want to follow. It means engaging people behind a cause, mission, vision, purpose or values. Influence is the outcome of being authentic as a leader, which allows you to build the deep levels of trust that draw people to you, engage people and commit them to being a part of your plan and vision.

    Impact—Leadership is about impact, not actions. Leaders are acutely focused on their desired impact (beyond goals and objectives), and impact equates to creating something long-lasting. While some “leaders” are focused on their personal agendas and legacy, true leaders are focused on organizational, institutional, community and global legacy.

    What about you?

    Will you be intentional? Are you committed to being the kind of person and leader that people will trust and want to follow? What’s your “why” as a leader (personally and professionally), and is your “why” more about impact than outcomes?

    These might seem like easy questions and they are, but only if you’re willing to be authentic, vulnerable and honest in assessing yourself. Many so-called leaders never even ask these questions, let alone honestly answer them. Many leaders claim to desire feedback from others (often the best source of honest perspectives and the best way for identifying blind spots), yet they never take action on the feedback—believing they already are the leader they want to be. We live in a world where leadership is often defined by effectiveness, rather than impact. Where leaders are judged more on their ability to be decisive than on their willingness to be vulnerable. Based upon the state of affairs in our world, it’s time for a change—time for a new type of leader. Authentic, vulnerable and courageous!

    In the end, leadership is a choice, and the three “I’s” outlined above are individual choices that collectively represent that larger choice. Once that choice is made, you can commit to these three I’s in order to be the type of leader that makes a difference with people, in organizations, in businesses, in initiatives and in the community.  The time is now—time for a new type of leader who is focused on intention, influence and impact. Will you choose to embrace the “I’s” of leadership?

    Join me on Tuesday, June 21st at the COSE Business Boot Camp as we take a dive into what it means to be an authentic leader and the impact authentic leaders can unleash. No matter your title or role, this session will help you tap into a whole other level of personal and professional leadership.

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    Next up: Turning Passion Into Giving Back

    Turning Passion Into Giving Back

    No one wants to admit that they’ve had to deal with pest or insect problems in their home or business, but hey – it happens. Dealing with an infestation is probably one of the most frustrating experiences to deal with on top of everything else, and it always seems to happen when you are least prepared for it.  Fortunately, with someone like John Young, owner of Speed Exterminating Co., in town,  you can rest assured that if you were to run into this pesky dilemma, you'll be bug ridden in short time. 

    No one wants to admit that they’ve had to deal with pest or insect problems in their home or business, but hey – it happens. Dealing with an infestation is probably one of the most frustrating experiences to deal with on top of everything else, and it always seems to happen when you are least prepared for it.  Fortunately, with someone like John Young, owner of Speed Exterminating Co., in town,  you can rest assured that if you were to run into this pesky dilemma, you'll be bug ridden in short time. What's more is that Young isn't your average termite terminator. He runs his business with the same passion, integrity and honesty that his family instilled in the business years ago. 

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    While Young has been at the forefront of Speed Exterminating since 1998, the business dates back more than 106 years, founded in 1908 by John W. Speed (Young’s great grandfather). After Speed, the business transitioned into the hands of Young’s grandfather, and later his father.  In 1963, the pest company was relocated to Old Brooklyn before once again being passed down to the next generation -- at which time Young acquired the reigns to the family business.

    Alongside his dedicated and passionate perspective toward the family’s industry and business, Young has also maintained a deep-rooted connection to volunteering and service.

    “I saw [my father] take great pride in having a strong small business community in Cleveland, and I feel that way too,” Young says. “Small businesses are the back bone of Cleveland. If there is going to be an economic revival in Cleveland, it’s going to be because of small businesses.”

    Turning his passion into action, Young co-founded the grassroots event, “Pedal for Prizes,” and has also provided leadership for the Cleveland/Akron Cystic Fibrosis Annual Bike Race. In doing so, he has achieved the ideal combo of mixing work with pleasure.

    “When I want to get away from the office, I’m big into bicycling,” Young says.

    Having been an avid cyclist for over 20 years, Young -- along with four other Old Brooklyn residents -- eventually came to unite his love for cycling with his deep-rooted Old Brooklyn heritage to create the event, “Pedal for Prizes”.

    The objective for the event is simple. “The idea is to just get on the bike and ride,” he says.

    With its inception in 2010, the event was founded with the idea of bringing together businesses in the Old Brooklyn community while also promoting a healthy and active lifestyle. Each participant is presented with a map that pinpoints 20 destinations. For every destination reached, the riders are given a raffle ticket to be entered for a chance to win various prizes such as Cleveland Indian’s tickets or bicycles. Destinations are divided between local businesses/merchants and points of interest, and are announced on the day of the event.

    The event, says Young, provides him the opportunity to give back to and promote a community that means so much to his family and business. “You succeed because the neighborhood succeeds. It’s not my success; it’s the neighborhood’s success,” Young says.

    Growing from 75 participants in its first year to over 600 people in 2013, “Pedal for Prizes” has been making a noticeable impact in its surrounding communities.

    “Biking gives me an avenue of things I’m capable of doing. I can’t solve world hunger, but I do have a connection to cycling,” says Young.

    Along with “Pedal for Prizes,” Young has also been actively engaged in the Cleveland/Akron Cystic Fibrosis Annual Bike Race. Created in 2012, the event raised $40,000 its first year and doubled to $80,000 this past year.

    For an involved small business owner like Young, the desire and urge to volunteer is always in abundance and, despite a busy work schedule, he always finds time to give back.

    “I want to give back to this community. I want to take time to make a difference,” he says.


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