Dr. Sarah Layton has sort of done it all. The founder and CEO of the Corporate Strategy Institute started out as a teenage welder in her father’s company. She’s been director of a medical lab company at a college, a saleswoman, a real estate investor and a motivational speaker. Layton formed Corporate Strategy Institute, a boutique strategy firm, in the early 1990s after getting her doctorate in business. Ever since, she has helped companies maximize their revenue potential and growth, and bring their corporate vision to reality.
Consulting: How did you get into consulting?
Layton: After dealing in real estate for a number of years, I decided I’d be happier if I went out on my own, so I launched a business, Layton Group, as a motivational speaker and consultant. During a speaking engagement, I was approached by a gentleman, who later became my mentor, who said I should be doing strategy consulting work and that motivational speakers were a dime a dozen. So I decided to take some classes. I found myself pulled into a doctoral program and the business started taking off.
Consulting: What sort of client work do you do?
Layton: We always say that companies need to be prepared to grow. One of the ways we do that is to provide an organizational tune-up. There was a credit card processor that had missed its opportunity to be sold to a large player in the market. We were invited in after the horse was out of the barn, but we could still do a lot of good. So we went through all the departments and tuned the operations, ultimately selling one of the divisions to a group of their employees. We got the EBIDA healthy, gave the owners an accurate valuation. Then we worked with a business broker and were able to help them sell to a large financial services organization. We were able to help them increase their revenue and profit, each sale we were able to help them increase their revenue, decrease their costs and increase their market share.
Consulting: Can you tell me a bit more about what your “Value Innovation” methodology?
Layton: Value innovation is what is necessary to make a company grow. What a lot of companies are calling value innovation really isn’t, because they’re taking their current methods and just tweaking them. When I talk with an organization about value innovation, I’m talking about new products in new industries. Everybody knows that you need to innovate—the concept of innovation isn’t new. If you look at great innovators, they’re all intuitive. Most of us just aren’t that intuitive.
Consulting: What are companies typically looking to achieve when they reach out to you?
Layton: Being able to help their businesses grow, to clean up their companies, to grow faster and to realize their goals. My goal is to make sure every company I work with achieves their growth in revenue and costs. For example, we worked with a small robotics division of a Fortune 500 company struggling with developing their strategy, even though they had grown 4 to 5 times in five years. They wanted us to help them apply tools to see if their creative thinking could go farther. Robotics is innovative anyway, and they were selling a lot to military and first responders—a robot that would go in and diffuse a bomb or make sure there’s no hidden artillery anywhere.
I’ve also worked with a Midwestern machinery manufacturer