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Key Idea: Explain Change

Everyone at the old Super Shuttle knew that big changes would be made with the new ownership but going from a nationally-known and respected franchise name to Cloud 9 was shocking.

Key Question:


Be open and honest with employees.

Q: How did employees react to the name change?

A: At an all-company meeting John explained how the name had been selected and what it would mean for the future. Some people quit. Yes, it was that dramatic. John was happy to see people who could not buy in to the new way of thinking leave the organization. Everybody had to get over the initial confusion, "What do clouds have to do with San Diego and shuttles and vans?"

It's been said that the only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper. As the owner of a business you have the power to do anything. You can change anything and everything and do it without asking anyone else's opinion. This freedom can get you in trouble so you have to think ahead and prepare employees to jump on your bandwagon. This is critical if you want them to help you make all of the changes so customers and suppliers don't suffer.

We say the best communicators make the best leaders and often a small business owner doesn't make the transition from owner-operator to leader because of poor communication skills. We say you have to explain change in this key point but we would add that you have to explain everything to everyone. You have to talk when you might not feel like talking because your employees want to hear about the thinking behind your decisions. They want to feel included in the thinking process. They even want you to solicit their opinion on matters that affect them directly.

Many parents who are in a hurry say to their kids, "just do it because I said so." This not the way to lead an organization through change or toward any exciting goals.

Think about it

Could you do a better job of explaining decisions to your employees? Could you engage them in the decision process more effectively?

Clip from: Cloud 9 Shuttle

San Diego: Meet John Hawkins and learn about his company, Cloud 9 Shuttle; he threw out conventional marketing wisdom, pulled the company out of bankruptcy, turned employees into owners, and installed key technologies. It just doesn't get any better than this. Not that it has been easy for John and his team; it has been very tough. Yet, this is the great American success story. He may not have made billions of dollars, he did save a business and he instills confidence being a good citizen is good business.

Upon arriving in America's Finest City with her beautiful, cloudless skies and moderate weather, you quickly discover that there are ubiquitous clouds at city's airport, Lindbergh Field. Here, the clouds are "Cloud 9" vans, a shuttle service from the airport to anywhere.

But it wasn't always so perfect in this perfect city.

This is a turnaround story. It's a branding story. And, it is a love story. To begin this story we went to the airport to meet the man who knows San Diego better than anyone. John Hawkins just loves this community and her people. And because of his service, when we asked about a business to study, everybody recommended John -- the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Mayor's office, Economic Development and many others. 

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Cloud 9 Shuttle

John Hawkins, CEO, founder

3550 Kurtz Street
San Diego, CA 92110

Visit our web site:

Office: 858-505-4900

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1991

Explain Change

JOHN: So we thought, `Well, yeah, OK. I'll tell my friends I'm in charge of Cloud 9 and you're still working for a living. You've done something wrong. We're having a ball. We're on cloud nine.'

So we started out and all our prices were gonna end in 99 cents; we had the nine commandments, which would be our drivers' rules. All our vans would be 901, 902. We wouldn't call them `vans' anymore. We'd call them `clouds.' And instead of Van #123, it was Cloud 999.

Then we started a culture of this is gonna be fun. And we introduced this to our employees and said, `This is who we're gonna be,' and we walked them through the same logic system. And they all said, `You're giving up this national franchise name to become Cloud what? Cloud who?' And some of these, they thought we were crazy; they thought we'd just, you know, lost our marbles. We had put no science into this.

Some people quit. Some people didn't want to work for us. People are security conscious. They thought we were crazy. We said, `We think this is gonna be differentiated by a bunch (of clouds!). And then we went out to build quality in that name ... to make it Nordstroms. To build an equity behind our name and to make it a household word.


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