A tough start

Renee K. Goldman didn’t have the strongest of foundations to bolster The Sagemont School when it opened back in 1995 — the school
didn’t even have a home, and the first 23 students had to attend class in a hotel.

But the private school’s founder and executive director believed she had assembled a solid team that could quickly lead the school to
“It goes to trust and people believing that we were going to have what we told them we were going to have,” Goldman says. “You have
to have what people want, and you have to make sure that you’re giving it to them.”

Over the past 10 years, Sagemont’s revenue has steadily grown, and the school now has 101 employees and about 760 students.
Smart Business spoke with Goldman about learning to make tough personnel decisions and why you don’t have to please everyone.

Q: What skills must a good CEO possess?

A successful CEO needs to see the big picture. That person has to have a tough skin and a big heart. People skills are most important,
along with characteristics such as flexibility, resilience and persistence.

People have to be able to trust you. A good reputation is also important. A person has to have the ability to network with community
leaders, bankers and other business people in the community.

You also need to be an out-of-the-box thinker who is creative and flexible and can inspire others to work with you.

Some people may be born with it, but I think it’s learned through experience. Things happen and you can’t please everybody all the
time. If you’re trying to do that, you will not be successful.

Find your niche in the market, hire people with complementary skills, keep focused and don’t get sidetracked from your goals. Maintain
your integrity, be true to your ideals and make sure your company matches your vision.

Q: What pitfalls must be avoided?

If you fall into that trap of thinking you have to please everyone, then you’re not going to do well. You have to play on your strengths
and surround yourself with quality people. You have to fire someone when they need to be fired.

Sometimes people just don’t share your philosophy. You think you are going to hire somebody good, and you find out once they are
working for you that their philosophy is really different and they’re at odds with what you want to be accomplished in your company.
If you’re in charge and you have a vision and somebody else doesn’t share that vision, they can’t work there. We try to get as much information as we can and input from other staff, and we look for a person who is going to fit in to our culture. Personality is very important
because they have to fit in to our culture and share a similar philosophy.

We certainly give a lot of feedback, we do evaluations and we do conferencing. But it’s very difficult to change someone’s basic personality and philosophy.

Q: How do you deal with failure?

You have to pick yourself up and say, ‘Let’s move on.’ I always say there is really no such thing as failure; it’s kind of a series of best
guesses of what will work.

If it didn’t work, what can we learn from that experience? Failure is really a learning opportunity. There can’t be a lot of success if you
haven’t had some failure. I always look at what’s the worst thing that can happen? If it’s not that bad, you keep going.

We try to take calculated risks based on data, goals and information. We’re not just throwing caution to the wind. Risks are absolutely
necessary if you want growth. I always feel that whatever we do, it won’t be a total loss because we’re smart enough to change our business plan midstream and find a way to make it work.

Q: How would you describe your company culture?

We believe in empowering our employees to do their job. We want our employees to take ownership and feel they are a part of whatever we do here. It’s really a consensual decision-making process.

If the staff is committed to us, and we’re all part of a team together, they are going to have more interest in the success of the school.
When people know they are going to have an opportunity to give input and that people care about what they think, they tend to do a better job.

We are a business even though we are a school. We feel when people come here, we have to be responsive to them. That is a priority.

HOW TO REACH: The Sagemont School, www.sagemont.com

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