The fantastic four

It may have happened about 15 years ago, but Martin Hillertells it like it happened yesterday.

He was on a plane with a man who was, at the time, a CEO ofa major grocery chain.

Hiller wanted to know why the CEO’s grocery store was better than other stores in which Hiller had shopped.

The CEO didn’t just give Hiller some stock answer; he illustrated it: “At that other store, that brand X you’re talking about,they tell their employees that they’re going to paint by numbers. You’re going to put paint A in this box, B in this box, C inthis box.’”

The CEO explained that while that method would guaranteeyou get a picture every time, it didn’t leave any room for greatness.

The CEO told Hiller: “You’re never going to get a masterpiece. Atour company, we believe in giving the team members the paint, thebrush, the easel and the platform to create masterpieces. We get alot of really bad pictures. But, it’s worth it for the couple of masterpieces.”

After hearing that, Hiller, now president of The Hiller Group Inc.,a provider of branded general aviation fuels and specialty carbonproducts, decided that’s how he wanted to lead his company. Hewanted to empower employees to make decision and create anenvironment where employees are free to come forward withideas.

“It was like, yeah, that’s the kind of company I want to have,”Hiller says. “I don’t want to have one that people feel like they’rerobots doing monotonous jobs where no one cares.”

As a result, he built a company with an open culture that wasmission- and vision-driven to maximize growth, and it worked wellthrough the years, including recently. Revenue increased from$135.3 million in 2006 to $157.4 million in 2007.

But earlier this year, Hiller decided to make a change. Being mission- and vision-driven was working fine, but it was time to takethe company to the next level. So he changed The Hiller Group tobe driven by four guiding principles.

“I don’t think we were broke before,” he says. “I thought it wasworking well. It was just wanting to raise the bar of expectations.By having four easily understood and deployable concepts, if youwill, or guiding principles, it became one where everyone wouldrally around it. There wasn’t tension, and concern and stress about,‘Jeez, next time I’m down and Marty’s in my office, do I have torepeat my mission statement?’”