Safety in numbers

 When J. Kent Burget was named president of Safety Management Group, his mandate was to lead the company to prosperity. The occupational safety services company had experienced little to no growth since its founding in 1994, and its owners thought a management change might turn the company around.

They were right. When Burget took the lead in 1997, Safety Management Group’s revenue was $509,000. Since then, revenue has increased rapidly; from 2003 to 2005, it increased from about $4.5 million to nearly $8 million.

But Burget is quick to deflect credit to his employees, saying that he simply listened to what they had to say and then made it happen.

“One thing I’ve done is listened and learned from our people that work here,” Burget says. “This is different, where you don’t have just one person running the ship. We try to emphasize that nobody works for anybody here.”

Smart Business spoke with Burget about the importance of relationships to growth and why you need to have a vision that employees can buy into.

To what do you attribute to your company’s fast growth?
We had the one anchor client that really started things. We were then able to pick up another anchor client. (If) you have a fairly large check coming in on a regular basis, it definitely helps with the cash flow when you are getting started.

The other things are having relationships. It’s important when people call that you’re responsive. We try to emphasize that with our folks.

With my voicemail, I change it every day, so people know what my schedule is and how to get ahold of me. It’s returning people’s calls when you say you will. I always return even the phone solicitors’ calls to tell them we’re not interested.

The management team that I’ve got, those folks are basically the leaders of our company. We were blessed to get some of the right people in the right places.

A lot of people tell us what to do. They say, ‘You ought to try this,’ or ‘You ought to try that.’ We’ve always stayed focused. Our core business is helping entities that have large contractor populations on their property or on a construction project. We’ve never really strayed from that.

How do you make sure the right people are in the right places?
You have to recognize their skills and talents. I don’t know if there is a way you can objectively do it. It is probably a subjective decision or observation, but once you identify those folks, you put those people in positions of leadership and responsibility and you take care of them.

One of the things we have done is a succession plan where the two other owners in ’97 — those guys were silent partners and getting toward retirement — had the vision, along with myself, to transfer ownership to the next generation of leaders, to have that vision to set them up so that those are the folks that are running the company and they can reap some of the success.

How did you expand your presence nationwide?
In ’02, we sat down and we knew enough that we needed to have some kind of annual strategic planning meeting and we were having that meeting and everything was going well, then one of the (employees) questioned me on where we were going, what’s in it for us and what’s your vision?

My vision, unfortunately at that time, was to stay in business and make money. They all stood up and said, ‘That’s not good enough. We need more direction.’ That led to our mission and vision statements and also our five-year goals.

It actually took us a couple more years to get our five-year goals done — doubling in size, being the No. 1 place to work in Indiana, maintaining at all times our anchor clients, developing five products, being involved at a chairperson or a board level in 40 associations.

Those things have leapfrogged us into more of a nationwide presence.

How were you able to form the new mission and vision?
We probably took half the company and considered them our core people and tried to get 20-some people to put into words where we think we’re going. To get to the mission and vision we have now, it probably took us a couple of years.

It was something where we started out with one but we haven’t hesitated to tweak it as the years go by to make sure those statements hold true and they’re accurate and where we want to go. I don’t know if it ever ends.

HOW TO REACH: Safety Management Group, (800) 435-8850 or