Spokes on a wheel

When you call Quality Plywood
Specialties Inc., don’t expect to
leave a voice mail. Michael A. Jankowski, president of the wholesale wood
product distributor, doesn’t allow it. If you
call before 8 p.m., a helpful employee will
answer the phone. After 8 p.m., an answering
service takes over, and you’ll receive a call
back the next morning.

“You can call it the new way of doing business with voice mail, but the old way is that
people want to talk to people,” Jankowski
says. “They will deal with the companies that they can actually talk to
somebody.”

Jankowski says providing exceptional customer service has helped
him grow his 60-employee company
to $23 million in annual revenue.

Smart Business spoke to
Jankowski about why employees
should understand their role in the
company’s success.

Q: How do you empower and motivate employees?

You do that by forming a cohesive
team, in terms of every employee
being an equal part of a spoke on
the wheel. Whether they’re a warehouse employee, a driver, a salesperson, a manager or an accountant, they have to feel as if they are
equal spokes on a wheel. When
they understand that — that their
job is just as important as anybody
else’s — they take on responsibility. That’s the empowerment,
where they take responsibility for
their actions rather than just being
here and being a number.

Q: How do you make sure employees
understand their role on the wheel?

We give them a lot of information. We don’t
just say, ‘Here’s the end of the month totals —
now we’re done.’ We analyze the month; we
give them information they need to see how
they directly impact the bottom line of the
company.

If a driver has a good safety record and gets
their deliveries out, they can directly correlate that with the revenue coming in, which,
in turn, produces money for the company, which, in turn, puts money in their pocket.
That’s an analogy for just one position. They
understand the direction of the company.

Q: What has been your greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge has been to balance
my personal life with a business life. I have a
very supportive wife who has supported me
through the growth of the company over the
last 14 or 15 years. I have to balance my passion for business with my need to service my
customers and employees with my personal

life. At times, my personal life gets short-changed. That’s my biggest challenge: To
remember that I have a wife of 32 years, and
I have to be there for her — not just be at
work all the time.

Q: How do you create that balance?

First, you have to realize if you’re going to
own a company, you have to spend the time
that’s necessary to make it profitable. It’s not
an 8 to 5 job. It’s whatever the business requires and whatever the customer
requires.

If you’re not willing to do that or if you
don’t have the support of your family structure — if you have a wife who says, ‘You can
leave at 8 a.m. and come home at 5 p.m. —
you’re not going to be successful, and you
really shouldn’t get into owning a business. If
you have the support from the home front,
then the business end of it is going to be
much easier.

Q: What have been your keys to success?

I’ve been in the industry since
about 1975, and I’ve been involved in
management and ownership since
the early 1980s. Understanding the
industry is the first key to success. If
you understand what you want to get
into, then your odds of success are
greatly magnified over somebody
who says, ‘That looks like a fun thing
to get into, let’s try it.’

The second aspect of it, which is
probably equally important, is the
employees. Without the right employees in an organization, you’re going to
fail. You can’t do it yourself as an
owner. In most industries, it’s just not a
one-man operation. If you’re going to
expand, you have to have the right
employees.

Q: How can a CEO become an industry
expert?

If you’re going to get into an industry,
you’d better work in that industry first.
You’ve got to understand the ins and outs
and idiosyncrasies of an industry before
you decide to be an owner and start your
own business. It’s like starting a restaurant. Sure we’ve all been to restaurants,
but how many of us really understand how
to run a restaurant?

If somebody wants to start a business, they
should do everything they can to research
that industry they want to get into and work
in the industry. I think you need to work for
some of your competitors before you can
really understand how the industry works.
Pay your dues.

HOW TO REACH: Quality Plywood Specialties Inc., (727) 572-0500 or www.qualityplywoodspec.com

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