Military precision Featured

8:00pm EDT August 28, 2006
 For 10 years, Shaun Bradley grew Bradley-Morris, Inc. by double-digit percentages each year, building it into one of the premier military-placement firms in the country.

Then he ran in to trouble.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many of the company’s competitors folded, and Bradley-Morris struggled to stay afloat as the companies that regularly hired ex-military men and women cut back in the wake of a recession.

“We hunkered down, kept putting one foot in front of another and controlled the things we could,” said Bradley, who co-founded Bradley Morris with Sandy Morris.

By 2004, the company was back on the upswing, and in the last two years has seen 50 percent growth, sending it above $10 million in revenue.

Smart Business spoke with Bradley, CEO of Bradley-Morris, about how he creates a company culture of camaraderie and communication.

After Sept. 11, how did you differentiate your company from your competitors?
We believed in what we were doing. We feel a tremendous responsibility to our people, to our clients, to our candidates that we were not only going to get through this but that we were going to emerge stronger, and we did.

We didn’t waste time thinking, ‘Woe is me.’ We said, ‘Whatever business is out there, we’re going to get it.’

Now we have a team that has gone through a tough time, and I’m convinced that people who have gone through a tough time in business always emerge better for it. They emerge with an understanding that the good times don’t always last, and that they have to be better to get the business that is out there.

But also, when the sun is shining, they are motivated to make as much hay as they can.

How do you create that culture?
They need to see you, need to touch you, need to feel that you’re engaged with them. For there to be laughter, for there to be camaraderie, there can’t be fear.

You’re not going to have that if somebody gives you bad news and you yell at them. You’d better be thankful. Instead of being upset with somebody for giving you bad news, you’d better be thinking, ‘Thank you for telling me,’ and you need to communicate and appreciate that.

If you want people to not be afraid, share with them some of your ideas that didn’t work so they don’t think you’re above the process. It’s important that your people feel that you’re still engaged in the game.

The secret is to be talking to all your key people all the time. I don’t mean to the point that you’re being a nuisance, but you’d better be talking to them enough that you have a strong relationship with them, so that when a situation comes up, they don’t have to wonder what you would do — they know what you would do.

And more important than that, when there really is a problem is not the time when you can create a relationship. That relationship has to be in place, and that only comes from logging the time.

If you’ve got a tough situation, that relationship you’ve established is worth its weight in gold. Because it’s there when you need it.

How do you manage growth?
You can have all the ideas in the world, but if you can’t implement them, it doesn’t do you any good. It’s important that we get buy-in from our key people, so we spend a lot of time doing that.

Maybe it’s not 100 percent the way you wanted it, but it’s a 90 percent solution. A 90 percent solution that everybody has smiles on about is better than a 100 percent solution where you’ve got nothing but frowns. Because that 100 percent solution where there are lots of frowns probably isn’t going to be implemented well.

What do you look for when hiring employees?
What we’re looking for are people who have excelled in their past, been No. 1 at something. We can teach them the business, but we can’t teach somebody passion, work ethic, integrity, ability to work as part of a team.

There’s a reason why people were No. 1 at something before we interview them. They were driven to be No. 1. That’s the kind of person I want.

How do you become a better leader?
Strive to always be worthy of the people you’re leading. It’s an everyday thing; your people have to trust you.

They have to trust you in two very fundamental ways. They have to trust that you know what you’re doing, that you are a subject matter expert in this business, because you’re captain of the ship.

They also have to trust that you have integrity — that you are worth them putting their careers and their families and future, to some degree, in your hands.

How to reach: Bradley-Morris, (770) 794-8318 or www.bradley-morris.com