In the trenches

Find the right players

In a company the size of Valerus — 1,200 employees and $320 million in 2007 revenue — it is difficult for those at the top of the organization to get every employee on board with the growth strategy and vision of the company. It’s not that employees are necessarily resistant, it’s that it’s difficult for upper management to cast a net that wide.

What Erwin and McGhan have done is attempt to hire people with experience in the natural gas compression industry who have been receptive to growth and change throughout their careers. Those people then help spread a growth-oriented mindset throughout the organization.

“With 1,200 employees, it’s very difficult to get buy-in from all 1,200 people,” Erwin says. “We push and communicate our strategy several levels down into the organization to try and achieve buy-in, in terms of our strategy. To help with that, we’ve been very fortunate to attract people who we know and have had business relationships with for many years. So as they joined Valerus, we knew they were attuned to growth as part of our culture. The people we have here are all here by design. Nobody in our management group is here by coincidence, and that’s because you have to be very selective in the people you hire. That’s why our strategy has worked.”

When building your work force, you need to recognize what you want in your managers and employees. Not every candidate will fit your culture. In fact, the majority may not.

“You need to have a growth culture, and not all companies have a culture that was developed for growth. Not all people are geared to be part of a growth organization,” McGhan says. “If start-up and growth are part of your strategy, you want to make sure you have the right people on board who embrace that. Remember that the vast majority of employees out there are not necessarily geared for that.

“Many people work for large companies and see a minimal amount of growth, and certainly are engaged in very little of the process of deciding how a company grows. So you have to have the right level of commitment from your people, because growth is tough. Growth isn’t easy, and you clearly need the proper buy-in from your employees and your management.”