Team building Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007

Steve Demetriou is certainly familiar with successful growth as chairman and CEO of Aleris International Inc. Four acquisitions in 2005 doubled the aluminum company’s revenue to $2.4 billion, and last year, it posted revenue of $4.8 billion.

To fuel his growth, Demetriou assembled the best team possible. Instead of having just a few senior people, he has 17 direct reports, each with a similar chain of command below them.

“If I have 17 people reporting to me, then they have to be 17 great people,” Demetriou says. “If not, then I’d need three or four people in between them to cover their gaps. Leadership at the top — true leadership — it’s understanding that it’s not just being financially savvy and technological. It’s being communicative and empowering and motivating the people.”

Demetriou talks to his direct reports regularly and expects to hear specifically what they’ve done to communicate, empower and motivate their team.

“Show me how you not only empower your people, but how you motivate the organization — people get excited by working for you,” Demetriou says. “You could be the smartest guy in the world and have the most understanding of the technical aspects of the product or business, but if you demotivate your organization, you’re going to have lousy results.”

Demetriou looks for senior managers who complement his team and exemplify the characteristics needed to empower and motivate.

“At the top levels, the critical success factors are accountability, motivation, communication, vision and strategy,” he says. “As you get deeper into the organization ... that’s where you want deep experience and technical capability, but those people, in order to do their jobs correctly and win, have to have, at the top level, an understanding of what the vision and strategy is.”

When he’s hiring or consolidating leadership between companies, Demetriou listens to what and how a person communicates to understand whether or not that person would fit with Aleris.

“Do they know their numbers, and do they have passion?” Demetriou says. “... If they’re motivating me, then I’m thinking, ‘OK, they’re motivating their people.’ If they’re on top of their numbers, they know about accountability. If they’re sitting there, and I ask about their numbers, and they really don’t know their numbers, and they’re boring and demotivating or arrogant, it becomes pretty clear.”

Even if you have great leadership, it doesn’t help the company if those visionaries don’t communicate and work together. Demetriou holds business review meetings every month, over two days, with at least an hour dedicated to each facet of the business. The meeting attendees discuss goals and plans, how the previous month went and the upcoming challenges they face. It’s not a performance review or a time to hammer people for not making numbers, but instead, it’s a positive experience to remove growth barriers.

Demetriou also uses these meetings to get buy-in to goals because he doesn’t close the meetings to any of the company’s employees. He encourages anyone to come, and if the employee is outside of Cleveland, he or she can conference call in.

“A lot of people complain, ‘Oh, there’s a managers-only meeting, and I’m not included,’ so there’s an inclusiveness that, to me, is powerful,” Demetriou says. “When I was lower in the organization earlier in my career, these are meetings I wanted to be in, and now, everyone here has the opportunity to do that.”

People buy in to goals and plans when they can sit and hear the thought processes behind decisions. But Demetriou also solicits their feedback and ideas and encourages them to speak during meetings.

“This is an opportunity to create something special and personally get known, and people complain a lot of times that they don’t have opportunities in companies,” Demetriou says. “Well, here’s an opportunity to show yourself on a monthly basis that you don’t normally get.”

These monthly meetings also allow the management team to foresee problems before they fester and permeate throughout the organization.

“In many companies, you can make decisions, but sometimes, it takes months for them to surface and then months more for people to march into headquarters and make a big presentation,” Demetriou says. “Here, we like to say that almost every month we’re on top of the business, and we can surface these issues instantly and make quick decisions. It gets rid of frustration that can develop in the organization from a lack of decisiveness.”

HOW TO REACH: Aleris International Inc., (216) 910-3400 or www.aleris.com