John Heyman

Radiant Systems succeeds because John Heyman makes customers and employees his top priorities. He does this by providing a common set of values for his 904 employees and exemplifying those values in every decision he makes as CEO, no matter the cost. Smart Business spoke with Heyman about how he implements these principles to grow his $172 million company.

Lead by example. At the end of day, I try to lead by example. One of the best quotes I ever saw on leadership and being a CEO was, ‘The best CEOs come to work each day trying to earn their job.’

Set the bar high for yourself. Focus on earning the title every day. Every customer, every employee, every shareholder’s eyes and ears are always on you, and you set the tone for the organization.

At the end of the day, you’re only as good as the people around you, so in that regard, make new compromises and recognize the success of the company has a lot more to do with the people that work for you than you yourself.

Exemplify values in work and life. You have to have a common set of values you’re willing to live by and set the standard very high. We have four core values. I try to make sure I set the bar very high for myself in terms of living those core values.

The first value is ‘Teams of winners,’ so we hire winners and work as a team to achieve aggressive goals for ourselves and our customers.

The second value is ‘Customers for life,’ that regardless of any contract we have with the customer, we should come to work every day with the idea that we have to earn that customer’s business again.

The third is ‘Ideas to action’. Ideas and innovation are great, but unless we’re bringing them to action, they’re really not meaningful.

Fourth is ‘Respect and honor,’ which speaks to respecting and honoring ourselves regardless of people’s titles in the organization but also living up to our obligations with our vendors, our communities, our shareholders and our customers.

At the end of the day, that is how I try to operate within the context of my job and outside my job.

Create a culture of prioritizing customers. It starts out with a culture in the company around customer satisfaction and a view that the best marketing we can do is to make sure all our customers are raving fans of the company. We measure it very rigorously.

We take a view in every meeting and every customer relationship that the customer is always right, and that then drives a set of actions.

Even if we have a situation where we feel like we’re not responsible for a project being behind, we will still bring all resources to bear to ensure the customer is getting the value that they envisioned buying on Day One when they set up a relationship with us. That permeates our company.

Hopefully these things don’t come to my desk because we have a group of capable managers and leaders who share the same values. But when things do come to my desk, I have to set the example and ensure that I’m setting the tone that the customer is right, and we’ll make the investments regardless of what it will cost to have a happy customer at the end.

I went through one year where we spent millions of dollars on these kinds of issues. People start to see me making decisions to invest in customer satisfaction, and because I have the belief that that’s the best thing we can do for the company over the long term, that starts to change the culture of the company.

Filter through ideas. There’s lots of great ideas, and our company has a maturity to it that if we like an idea, then we try to get the facts around that idea.

How big is the opportunity? How much will it really cost us to solve this challenge a customer might have and bring to life a product that works for a large set of customers? If it’s going to cost us this much, how much can we sell of it and actually make it into a profitable growth platform?

We have a framework for making investments, whether it’s internal improvements or in terms of products, and our ideas are tested against that framework. Then we invest in those that are the highest return projects and those that are the least amount of risk.

Remember that profits follow caring. When we take care of our internal and external customers — our internal customers being our employees, our external customers being our customers and our distribution partners — the financials will take care of themselves over the long term.

We endeavor to grow our profits and grow our revenues each year, but the overriding guideposts for our company is our strategic plan. So unless you’re taking care of your customers and you’re taking care of your employees, you’re not going to be able to sustain growth for a long period of time, and that’s something that is integral.

By focusing on customers and employees, shareholders will, over time, reap the right returns.

Hire great people. One person can do only so much, so any effective leader has to be able attract, retain, motivate and grow great people. Growth inevitably requires you to empower others. If you’re a one-person company, you can do everything. If you’re a 1,000-person company, there’s very little you can do because 999 other people are doing most of the work.

Delivering sustained growth over a long period of time is very hard, so you’ve got to still be a great problem-solver and teacher and make sure other leaders in the company are able to think strategically, are able to think of balancing the short- and the long-term and customer satisfaction.

Set the right frameworks and then be willing to pull back and empower people to make their own decisions and lead their own teams, and have a measurement system to evaluate how you’re doing.

Think of the short- and long-term. So many companies have sacrificed long-term growth for short-term profits that have reflected themselves in not taking care of their customers or not taking care of their employees or not investing in infrastructure or not investing in new products.

Jack Welch said any manager can run a business for short-term profit. Any manager can ignore short-term profit and always be thinking about the long term, but great managers can do both — they can deliver short-term performance and long-term growth.

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