John Ferchill

John Ferchill’s title is a bit misleading. It’s not that Ferchill, chairman and CEO of The Ferchill Group, isn’t the real estate
development and management firm’s top executive. It’s just that a formal title doesn’t really put a name to what Ferchill thinks is
his most important job as a leader — being a visionary. To maintain that important role, Ferchill has a president run the day-today operations of the company, but he’s still in the driver’s seat when it comes to steering the firm in a new direction. And, as
he keeps his eyes open to push his 100 employees forward, the firm has seen revenue pass $300 million.

Smart Business spoke with Ferchill about heading the vision and the advantages of keeping a smaller company feel.

Pay attention to the big picture. I provide the
vision for the entire company. I ask, ‘What
are we doing here, where are we going?’

We’ve been staying out of Chicago
because we thought it was too big for us,
but I’ve studied it, and we think we’ve
found a niche. It’s providing vision, that’s
what my job really gets down to. It’s saying,
‘Look, guys, let’s get this done,’ or telling
them, ‘I’m not comfortable with this.’

It is real hands-on. I’m right in the middle
of this thing all the time. I don’t do the daily
execution, but everybody knows where we
all stand.

Truthfully, the president of the company
handles almost all of the personnel-type
issues. He’s the one that weighs in and discusses what we’re doing. That’s a good
thing between him and I because we can
have discussions from there on how the
day to day goes, while I go do other things.
We have 100 percent trust in one another,
so that I can trust him to watch over everything else. He gets to be the quarterback,
and that’s fine with me.

For me, my cell phone gets 4,000 minutes
a month, so I’m on the phone with these
guys all the time talking about direction.
They’re always asking questions. They’re
doing the day-to-day stuff, but I see the
whole of what’s going on. I sit in on all the
discussions and decisions for the big things
that are happening.

Be straightforward with your staff. We’re very
direct in terms of telling everyone that
somebody specifically has to handle this
and somebody has to take care of that.

Egos get in the way, but truthfully, not
that much. There are arguments, but we
want everyone to be straightforward. The
president of my company has no problem
telling me to stay the hell out of this or that
because I’m causing problems. And I listen
to that — unless I want to go in and cause problems.

You have to stay on it. You can’t just tell
people you’re going to do this and then let
them go and everyone just kind of lollygags
off. You have to watch them all the time
and follow up when you say something.

I think it’s best to be very direct and
straightforward because it moves the
process along at a much better rate, and
you know what people are doing all the

Work big, keep your staff small. The No. 1
thing for us is we are not a big company in
terms of our staff. We do big stuff, but we
avoid being a big company; we stay small
by focusing on roles. Everyone kind of
knows what everyone else is doing and
everyone has a certain role, and we follow
those roles pretty religiously.

My chief investment guy, I wouldn’t negotiate a deal or do a transaction without his
total input. We do that across the board. He
has his role, and we follow that. I have a
guy who runs the company on a day-to-day
basis, and he knows exactly what needs to
be done and he executes it.

There’s no game-playing going on with
those positions. There are no politics. You just take your set role and live it. It sounds
like a simplistic thing, but it frankly works.

With those set roles, you can go right to a
certain person and ask them, ‘What do you
want to do about this?’ My people hear that
from me all the time. Our biggest advantage over everything is we just move
incredibly fast because of our size.

Things happen faster when you can go
right to someone. Things happen immediately when we decide we want to do something. And if something is not working, we
can go fix things fast.

Take time training new people. We only bring
one person at a time in because we’re such
a small organization, and that’s the easiest
way to make sure that we have the time to
train them.

We’re always looking for a special skill,
whatever it may be, so that they can feel
self-worth and they can contribute right
away, and that’s one of the things that we
work on — whether it’s a numbers guy or a
construction guy — and that seems to have
been very, very successful for us. Then,
since it’s such a tight-knit place, they’re
involved in the game right out of the box.

Know your company and know what you’re capable of. We were working on a big project,
and we all know what we have to do internally, and we had a specific agency that
was acting unreasonable. Well, we get on
the phone and tried to talk it out, and things
weren’t being done the way we wanted and
they were being unreasonable, so we
passed on it.

It was that simple. It was a big opportunity, but it wasn’t for our firm. That was the
right thing to do. It really sounds so mundane, but it’s a team effort, and we know
what we want, and this one wasn’t for us.

HOW TO REACH: The Ferchill Group, (800) 566-7676 or