Taseer Badar was a fledgling entrepreneur in his mid-20s and ruin was staring him in the face. He had invested between $4 million and $5 million in four gas station/convenience stores in the Beaumont, Texas, area, and his company, the predecessor to ZT Wealth Inc., was leasing the properties to earn income. But when he chose the lessees, he failed to do an in-depth background check.
Within six months, all four stores had gone through their entire inventory and the lessees had siphoned the gas out of the tanks and disappeared. Badar closed the locations and started looking for a way to avoid bankruptcy.
He approached a wholesaler to help him restock his shelves to reopen, but he got a bonus in the form of some important business advice.
“He said, ‘You’re never going to get your money out of these stores unless you have an owner running them,’” Badar says.
As the owner, Badar gave it a shot, but his business was in Houston and the stores were 100 miles away. The experiment was short-lived.
“I was horrible — it was horrible — and I didn’t know what I was doing,” Badar says.
The wholesaler found people to operate the stores and advised Badar to give them an opportunity to own. With that opportunity ahead of them, the potential owners increased sales 50 percent, and within a year, he had sold all the stores at a premium.
Getting employees to buy in through ownership proved a valuable lesson to Badar, who went on to grow ZT Wealth and founded Altus Health Management Services, which provides support to medical facilities in administration, marketing, human resources and cash management.
Here’s how Badar, who serves as president and CEO, takes the promise of ownership a step further and engages the 700 employees at ZT Wealth and Altus Health Management Services to help generate $130 million in annual revenue.
Badar uses the analogy of an airplane to describe how to manage a company and its growth.
“Make sure that you don’t fly too high,” he says. “You take off in an airplane, and there is nothing underneath you. If it crashes, you can’t save the plane most of the time. When you grow too fast and you don’t have a foundation underneath you, it’s the same thing.”
That foundation needs to be more than statements describing the company’s core values or its mission. Instead, it should reflect a real knowledge and awareness of what is going on with your employees. Managing employees requires a bit of psychology to understand your employees, be successful and grow your business. And to do that, you need to consider the way employees view their jobs. Badar says it’s important to remember that you are dealing with human beings and their emotions, and by extension, you are also dealing with what’s going on in their families and their home lives.
You also need to understand your employees’ motivation for why they do things the way they do.
“If you understand that, you can work within the skill set of everybody,” Badar says. “And you can manage growth that way. If you come to terms with people’s skill sets, you really can manage and motivate them.”
The ownership card
The challenge for entrepreneurs after laying the foundation of their businesses is to build the first floor, the second floor and each successive one after that. If you have done your homework and discovered what makes your employees tick, the next step is to find out how to keep them motivated.
Badar says that motivation is not always about the money. Instead, it is often about the urge to keep the business growing. And the key to getting your employees to buy in is ownership, according to Badar.
“If you give someone ownership — not just options hoping that a stock price may hit one day — that will make someone work around the clock,” he says.
Then when you, as the leader, are not available and a client comes in, the employees treat the company — and by extension, the client — as their own.
Badar has given about 40 employee partners ownership in the company, and with ownership comes monthly dividends. After two years on the job, he has a pretty good feel of who is going to make it, who isn’t and who is going above and beyond the role of an average employee. If people aren’t going to rise to that role of ownership, you need to tell them so they can make the decision of whether they can be happy in their current role or if it is time to move on.
Badar says that each year, he chooses a few employees to share in ownership. And while some leaders may have difficulty giving up part of their business, he says you need to look at it another way in order to gain the long-term benefits.
“Don’t think about giving up anything,” Badar says. “You are gaining an asset by bringing an owner in. The shares that you give up mean you may just have a smaller piece of a bigger pie.”
Ensure a team approach
Once an employee becomes an owner, there often are immediate signs that the new arrangement is working. Employees become more engaged and take more initiative and begin working evenings and weekends. But underneath that new engagement remains the necessity of teamwork.
“You are as good as your people,” he says. “There is no ‘I’ in team. It’s very important. You’ve got to think ‘we,’ not ‘me.’”
When employees feel that they are in the business as part of a team, it discourages gossip and encourages employees to work together. And that should be a part of the company culture, with activities such as gossip discouraged in company policy. Badar has set a policy that identifies discussion of salaries and positions during the workday as cause for termination.
“Politics, for me, is the worst thing in a company environment,” he says. “There are politics in every company, including ours, obviously. But I have tried to shy away from it. The work environment is very important to me and kissing butt doesn’t work in our company.”
Instead, it is the engagement of employee ownership that leads to the success of the entire company.
How to reach:ZT Wealth Inc./Altus Healthcare Management Services, (713) 627-2000 Galleria office; (832) 230-8100 Pearland office or www.ztwealth.com
The Badar File
co-founder, president and CEO
ZT Wealth Inc./Altus Health Management Services
Born: Lahore, Pakistan. I have been in the U.S. since I was 11 months old.
Education: Texas A&M University. I have a degree in entrepreneurship management and finance.
What was your first job?
Mowing lawns. I learned how to ask for a sale. And if you didn’t get the edging right, someone wouldn’t pay you. I learned you have to do a good job or otherwise they wouldn’t pay you.
Whom do you admire in business?
I had a mentor who really taught me what to do and what not to do. His name was Ghulam Bombaywala. He had some 80 restaurants, he was a rags-to-riches person, and he has lost a lot of money since, but he still does OK. I learned a lot from him on how people interact.
As far as somebody that I admire in business, I would say who has leveraged a lot of relationships and who is a minority businessman is Magic Johnson. He is a great business leader. I don’t know him personally, but he is the first African-American athlete ‘near billionaire.’ Trying to help his community, doing things to give people a sense of an opportunity — that was his claim to fame.
What is the best business advice you have ever received?
Never burn your hut looking at someone’s palace. Stay within your own. Don’t try to compete with anybody. That washes away what you are good at. You’ll get there one day.
What is your definition of business success?
Contentment. Being financially free, paying off your loans and, thus, getting a great income. Business success is employing people, making a difference. But I think financially free is very important. Business is a risk. If you can mitigate that risk and still make that kind of money by employing people, that’s the success.