In the trenches

Whether your growth strategy is tilted toward organic or external growth, Chet Erwin and Mike McGhan have a lesson to teach you: Listen to your employees on the front lines.

The co-CEOs, co-founders and general partners of Valerus Compression Services LP — a provider of natural gas compressor packages, production equipment and processing solutions — have each been in the natural gas business for nearly 30 years. They’ve started multiple companies together. Through several decades of leading businesses, they’ve learned that successful businesses harness the knowledge of their employees, not just their labor.

Your employees in the trenches are the ones who are developing relationships with customers, prospective customers and suppliers. There is a good chance they will see trends developing in a particular market before you do.

With that in mind, Erwin and McGhan strive to keep the lines of communication open between the home office and the employees on the ground level, which in turn facilitates an open dialogue with customers and suppliers.

“We listen to our front-line people,” Erwin says. “It goes back to having a ‘Get out from behind your desk’ strategy. We see a lot of opportunities as we travel throughout the business units because we spend a lot of time talking to individual business leaders and having a lot of interaction throughout our industry.”

McGhan says it’s all about relationships.

“Our business is to a large degree built on long-term relationships,” McGhan says. “You have to continue to build on new relationships and maintain your existing relationships, which is what we’ve done for the past 25 to 30 years.”

And here are some of the lessons they’ve learned along the way.