Robert White Sr., co-founder and chairman of The Daimler Group Inc., admits that up until he was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War, he probably could have won an award for Junior Underachiever.
“It was easy to do enough to get by, and that’s about all I did,” he says. “The Army was a big plus for me. I was a college graduate so I was placed in a leadership role and was responsible for other people’s lives. It was a wakeup call, and life became a little more serious. It certainly took me from an underachiever to more of an achiever.”
Once he returned from Vietnam, White knew he was at a crossroads. A political science major in college, he was little qualified to do anything, but he didn’t let that stop him. He made a gutsy move and began selling real estate on a commission-only basis.
“I was able to learn the business during that period, make mistakes, and they allowed me to do lots of things that I was not qualified to do, but it worked out fine,” he says.
After depositing regularly into the bank of experience, White was ready to withdraw all he needed to start his own business. He co-founded The Daimler Group in 1983 with a distinctive philosophy ― to try to respond to market needs and not the egos of sales representatives or to meet the budget for overhead.
Within the first few years, the company was involved in large projects such as One Columbus, the LeVeque Tower and the LeVeque Garage. The company has grown into one of the dominant development firms in the region.
While much of the commercial real estate industry may be driven by strong personalities and egos, White sees to it that The Daimler Group operates as a partnership.
“With the associates who work at Daimler or outside partners, we’ve always strived to do more than we said we were going to do,” White says. “Most of the time we have been able to do that, and we exist because of those partnerships and people.”
Most of Daimler’s business is with repeat customers.
“I think that’s had more to do with our success than anything,” he says.
A stable work force helps contribute to that repeat business, supporting the well-known observation that if a customer works with the same sales agent over time, he or she develops a relationship that can make a difference in a competitive field.
“We have 34 employees and a big percentage of those have been with us for 20 years or more,” White says. “Everybody is treated well. Expectations are known and achieved. If we have financial partners, it’s many times the same folks that we have relationships with.”
With a veteran staff for a relatively small company, the operation usually goes smoothly due to the depth of employee buy-in.
“It goes on seamlessly because of the amount of time, energy and longevity of the various folks who have been here and continue to be here,” White says.
While on the surface, an operation may appear seamless, underneath there are strong currents of motivation.
“It’s a combination of fear and reward,” White says. “With success, people count on that success. The fear of not having that is there, and it’s real ― it’s the reward aspect if we do things well and profitable. Then there’s the fear that that may very well slow down, and so it’s that combination that helps motivate employees.
“In a company our size, there is certainly peer pressure, too, from various departments,” he says. “If a division is dependent on someone else to make sure the flow of work is there, and it’s not happening, different divisions within the company do apply pressure.”
Another motivating factor is the need to think long-term. After the completion of a project or a sales deal, you can’t rest on your laurels.
“You constantly have to reload,” White says. “You may have had a really good year, several really neat and good projects but they end, and you have to have others that start. When we’re going very strong, it’s hard many times to motivate people to be thinking a year from now when they are quite busy doing what they have on their plate today.
“Yet we have to always do that,” he says. “That’s probably the biggest leadership requirement right now. When you’re in a down economy, that becomes even more critical as we’re all competing with each other.”
A combination of a solid work ethic and knowledge of what needs to be done is also a sure key to effective results.
“It’s probably more work ethic that anything else,” White says. “We know what we have to do; it’s whether we do it or not. When you get complacent, and you get older folks who believe their wisdom will cover other things, it’s not necessarily true. We’ve still got to have the work ethic. The wisdom is great, but if it’s not being used, it doesn’t mean much.”
How to reach: The Daimler Group Inc., www.daimlergroup.com