Bob Bellack got an early start in the entrepreneurial game. Selling golf balls and lemonade, mowing lawns, cleaning gutters and washing windows were just a few of the jobs Bellack took on before he had even turned 10.
“Anything I could do to make a buck,” Bellack says with an air of confidence. “I was driven by the need to do things independently and have money of my own to get what I wanted when I wanted it.”
Flash-forward to 2012 and you’ll find that Bellack, now all grown up, is still in a hurry to achieve success as quickly as he can make it happen. He’s the CEO of Newegg North America, an e-retailer with an offering of more than 3 million products and roughly $2.5 billion in annual sales.
Those are great numbers, but Bellack says they won’t cut it in tomorrow’s world. He explains that as the market continues to evolve, so must the products available for purchase at Newegg.
“We have to be faster, smarter and more nimble in what we do,” Bellack says. “Not in everything but in what we do. Newegg did a great job getting to where it is today. But where it is today isn’t where we need to be. We need to keep changing the business. There’s a lot of change that’s going to happen in the next 12 to 24 months.”
You won’t find pingpong tables, brightly colored walls or slides for employees to swiftly glide from the second floor to the first floor at Newegg. Bellack says it’s a different approach than that of other companies in the tech industry, but it’s one that suits him best.
“When people come here, they have to be people who don’t look to see what it is,” Bellack says. “They see what it could be. That’s the biggest challenge is finding people who have that vision. What we’re doing is we’re going to change and evolve Newegg to another stage in its life. To do that, you have to have those people.”
It’s not that Bellack is trying to be coy about his company’s future when he says prospective employees need to visualize it for themselves. It’s more like he views the future as a picture that hasn’t been painted yet.
And if you’re not confident enough, or brave enough, to come along for the ride and help him paint that picture, Bellack says you’re not going to be a good fit at Newegg.
“Innovation is not going to come from me,” Bellack says. “It’s going to come from them seeing opportunities to do a job better or see what somebody else in their realm is doing and make change and drive change.
“It’s not going to be from me telling them to do it. If that’s the culture you have, you cannot be competitive. Amazon has 50,000 employees around the country trying to figure out how to be better than everybody else. If you think I’m smart enough to beat 50,000 people, that’s absurd.
“We have to build a really strong group of people who are creative, independent thinkers and risk takers who are willing to take risks and change things.”
The big question is how do you find those talented people, and then once you find them, how do you get them to mesh all of their talents together for the betterment of your organization?
“I do a lot of interviews,” Bellack says. “I talk to three or four people a week and then sometimes more. When you reach a certain point of your career, a large part of what you do is recruiting and finding new people and finding new skills. You learn things from people who you interview and people you talk to. That’s one way you stay current with what’s going on.”
Talking to people is only scratching the surface of what you need to do, of course. Anybody can find people and engage in conversation, but that alone is not enough to bring you the talent you need.
The key is your ability to set your ego aside and not set barriers as to who you’re willing to talk to or consider bringing into your business.
“Don’t be afraid to hire experts or to hire people who know a lot more than you do,” Bellack says. “Shoot for as high as you can get. If you don’t, the last thing you ever want to be in any leadership role is the smartest guy in the room.”
If you have a problem hiring people who are smarter than you, you have to ask yourself what your goal really is with your business. Is it to achieve personal glory? Or is it to build a successful business?
“It’s not about people or personalities,” Bellack says. “It’s making sure people understand it’s really about the ideas and the business. It should never be personal. It should be very focused on what is our business objective. Our business objective is to make the place better.”
Give someone a sense that they can be part of a big success story and achieve growth on a personal level and they’re more likely to buy in, even if you don’t yet have a clear sense of where it’s going. They’ll see it the same way you do, as a challenge and an opportunity.
“The person you hire has certain expectations,” Bellack says. “Pay is one of them. That’s kind of the ante to be in the game.
“What they really want is to work with smart people that they are going to learn from. They want to do things that are unique, different, cutting edge and innovative. They want to be able to have a career path or development path, maybe in the company, maybe out of the company.
“But at the end of the day, they want to be at a place where they like to get up and go to work every day.”
Focus on the big picture
When Bellack talks to people about coming to work at Newegg, he engages in every conversation with the hope of learning something from it. If he’s lucky, it will be something that he can apply to his plan for growth at Newegg.
“I’m looking for someone not just to say, ‘I had $1 million to spend on marketing, I bought search keywords on Google and my click-through rate is ABC,’” Bellack says. “What I want to know is they actually had a bunch of different ideas on how to bring customers in and they executed those plans in a unique way, one that I hadn’t thought of before.”
Bellack is particularly interested in where people have gone who have worked either for or with the people he is interviewing.
“Tell me where the people are who worked for you,” Bellack says. “Where did they go? What jobs did they take? Have they been successful in their career? One of the guys answered, ‘Well, I’m not sure what they’ve gone on to.’ That was about over and we were about done.
“That tells you the kind of people that they bring in. The people I’ve brought in to work for me, a lot of them, I wish I had taken the jobs they took. They did far better than I did in many cases. But I’m happy for them. I think people should pick people who are smarter than they are and have the confidence they can hire good, smart people.”
In Bellack’s mind, it needs to be all about the business. If everyone is focused on the business and on making it better, all the other things will come. The personal growth, the personal rewards and the opportunity for everyone to experience a lot of success — it will all be there if everyone has the same goals in mind.
“I want to hear good ideas,” Bellack says. “I want to hear that they have recruited and developed good people and I want to know that they have concrete things they have accomplished.
“I want to know that they could work together with others to accomplish a goal. Personally, there is no incentive or benefit to me for self-promotion among the people who work for me. The only way I win is if this company creates more value.”
Put it all together
The final piece is to take those ideas and talents and potential and put it all together to build a better business. It’s not always easy as even people who work well with others and enjoy collaboration have days when they don’t agree with their colleagues.
“When you start bringing in a lot of people who have strong views and vision, I think the biggest challenge becomes what the alchemy is when you put them all together,” Bellack says.
“Part of my job is to try to make sure what we make here is constructive and that people work together. The people who were here before and the new people, what I don’t want is conflict and confusion. I want people who are creative, and I want people to debate and challenge things. But at the end of the day, you need people who can work together constructively.”
One of the most important things you need to do when you’re building a team is to set expectations. If you’re a business that is still shaping its future, that’s fine. But you and your people still need a road map of how you’re going to do it.
“If you set the ground rules and you tell people how to behave and you set the culture where people behave in that way, generally it works,” Bellack says. “I can’t say it always works. But I believe most people want to do a good job. They just want to know what the rules are and how best to work in an environment.”
Bellack takes personal pride in helping the people he hires become successful. In the same way he looks for stories from interviewees about people they have developed, he wants to have stories he can share about talented people he helped grow and succeed.
“My role is to make sure the people I bring in are as successful as they can be,” Bellack says. “What we need to do is make sure we identify employees with unique skills and capabilities and make sure we set a climate and environment where they can be successful.
“Sometimes they can’t do other things, but they can do one thing really well. Part of management is figuring out where those people are and finding the right spot where they can excel and make the company successful.”
As Newegg continues to grow and rack up more awards for its ability to meet and exceed consumer expectations, Bellack says he’ll continue to try to do it even better.
“You should never stop asking the question, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’” Bellack says. “At the end of the day, that drives you to continuously get better.”
While Bellack pursues growth relentlessly, he doesn’t let himself get overwhelmed by all the moving parts that make up Newegg.
“I cannot worry about whether someone in Shanghai or New Jersey is doing the right thing,” Bellack says. “I will never know that. I can never know that and it’s somebody else’s job to know that. But if they understand how they link back and how the goals and metrics are tied back, then we shouldn’t worry.” <<
How to reach: Newegg North America, (800) 390-1119
The Bellack File
Newegg North America
Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting, DePaul University, Chicago. MBA, Kellogg School of Management — Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.
Who has had the biggest influence on your life?
My father. He was an entrepreneur, a musician and a music publisher. He did all kinds of things. He was basically a very successful guy doing lots and lots of things. He fostered a climate of independence and entrepreneurialism in our family.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
My father told me to not be afraid to make mistakes. He told me when I played percussion, I had the cymbals, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid to hit them hard.’ Let me tell you, when you have those cymbals, if you’re not on the right time, you’re going to be singled out as the guy making the mistakes. But that’s true of anything. You learn every time you do something.
What one person would you like to meet now or have met from the past?
Steve Jobs was a very interesting guy. He is somebody who went through a lot of pain. He had some unbelievable successes, but he is somebody who was criticized and challenged. He made the world’s most valuable company. He went from Michael Dell telling him to give the money back to making the world’s most successful, valuable company. It’s more his spirit, his ability to be successful despite a lot of challenges. Some were self-inflicted; some were not. It would be interesting to hear his innermost thoughts about how he felt at different points in that experience.
Know the kind of people you want to hire.
Look for people who have helped others succeed.
Set the expectations for what you want to achieve.