Sports have always been a big part of Matt Kaulig’s life.
Back in the 1990s, he was the quarterback of the football team at the University of Akron and earned the Harry “Doc” Smith Award as the team’s most outstanding freshman. These days, he’s the owner of Kaulig Racing and partners with NASCAR driver Blake Koch to compete in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
“That’s what I love about business,” Kaulig says. “It’s like a sport. You keep score and see how you’re doing, not only on topline revenue, but on your bottom line and your profitability. You see what your revenue is every year and see how you rank against other companies in your field. You just keep trying to get better.”
As Kaulig and Koch seek to make their mark in the world of auto racing, Kaulig has built LeafFilter North Inc. to become one of the nation’s leading gutter protection companies. The company he launched in his basement back in 2005 has grown to 31 offices across the nation and expects to finish 2016 with $105 million in revenue. LeafFilter has about 350 employees and 350 subcontractors that make up its team.
“We’ve been very calculated and careful about our growth,” says Kaulig, the company’s founder, president and CEO. “You always hear about companies that are just rock star companies and they explode with growth — and then they are gone. And you say, ‘What happened to them?’ We don’t want to be that company. We want to have continuous, steady growth and be here forever.”
Kaulig has made a concerted effort to focus on what his company does best and not obsess over what competitors are doing or how they are doing it.
“There are a lot of different ways to be successful, even in the gutter protection industry,” Kaulig says. “I don’t know if our way is the best way to do things. But it’s the way we do it.”
Keep it all together
One challenge that all leaders face when their business expands beyond a single location is the need to find a new way to communicate with a larger and more decentralized team.
“When you’re a small company, you talk to all the employees all the time,” Kaulig says.
That was obviously easy to do when LeafFilter was based in Kaulig’s house. It wasn’t that much more difficult when the company added locations in Columbus, Pittsburgh and Toledo.
“Those offices are close and I could drive there if I needed to,” he says. “Then we expanded to Maryland, Virginia and Cincinnati. Those aren’t so close.”
In order to stay connected with everyone in the company, no matter where they might be located, Kaulig made an investment in technology. Each office in the LeafFilter organization has “big, huge plasma TVs” to access the company’s state-of-the-art video conferencing system.
“Every Monday night, I do a 15-minute video to recognize the top performers in the country and to let everybody know what’s going on in the company and here at corporate,” Kaulig says. “I talk about our top-performing offices and employees. Once a week, people get to hear from the CEO about what’s happening.
“While I can’t physically be in each location, myself and our managers are able to speak with everybody on a daily basis if we need to. It’s facetime that we get without having to jump on a plane and be in 31 different cities.”
Technology is a big part of the solution to building a cohesive team. So is recruiting.
“You have to become a great recruiter and a great interviewer,” Kaulig says. “You’re not able to lead until you find the right people. Once you’ve recruited them and you get them in front of you, you have to do a great interview and sell them on the opportunity. Then it’s up to your leadership to do the onboarding, welcome them and get them excited about being a member of the team.”
These components build off of each other and combine to foster a stronger workplace culture. If everyone understands what’s happening in the business and what the major goals and priorities are, they are more easily able to share the company’s direction and its needs when they speak with potential newcomers to the organization.
Recruiting is important for any growing business that has these additional roles that need to be filled. Perhaps even more important to the strength and health of your workplace culture, however, is the opportunity you provide existing employees to advance in your organization when those opportunities come about.
“We try to promote from within,” Kaulig says. “We have 31 offices and we’re getting ready to open several more branch locations. We like to give people that are already in our organization and are talented and working hard the opportunity to be promoted and move up. That’s one way to continue to build a winning team is to develop people from within your business. It’s a great way to motivate and reward people for their efforts.”