When Brigitte Peleman-Vantieghem brought her family’s company from Belgium to the U.S. in 1998, she was sure the company’s Unibind brand binding, laminating and presentation products would find a niche in America.
“It’s very important to see the sky as the limit,” she says. “Don’t panic or be afraid.”
Peleman Industries Inc. has prospered in the U.S. and worldwide, as well.
The U.S. operation has grown to 80 employees, and Peleman’s products are available in 110 countries.
Smart Business spoke with Peleman-Vantieghem about how to build a great team and why you need to be consistent.
Q. What are the keys to effective leadership?
It comes down to knowing your weaknesses. Then surround yourself with the best people you can find in your field. Make sure that they are the best in that, in your weakness.
For example, if you do not do very well in procedures, especially in writing the procedures, make sure you have a very high-profile person who is very, very good with procedures.
That is how I try to surround myself with people who are absolutely much better than I am in any weakness that I have.
Q. How do you find good people for your management team?
I have incredible HR recruiters. First, they always want to make sure they fit. It’s easy to find people with the right resume. But they must fit in the culture of the company.
We’re a family-owned company, and we really act as a company. So it’s not always purely business, and it’s not always purely rational. The HR people, they know this. Yes, a resume is very important. But then, once you start asking questions in the interview, it is usually 40 to 60 percent.
And with any person put in our organization, I always make sure that, before they start, I explain the strategy and mission and make sure they understand the values of this company.
So that is how we make sure I find the right people for the executive team. Even if (the new employee) is three levels down from you, the executive, make sure before they start they understand the mission, vision and values.
The values are very important because, over the years, I’ve found you fire a person for who he really is, for which values he carries. He can be the best, can have X amount of master’s degrees, he can be the best person there is in that field. But if he doesn’t respect your values, it doesn’t work in the long term.
Q. How do you determine if a candidate will fit in your culture?
We would ask him open questions. ‘What is the ideal company you would work for?’ We ask about the relationship they would like to have with their peers. ‘If you make a decision, is it purely rational? If you fire someone, is it purely rational?’
You really want to know how he sees relationships within a company and not only with employees but also with suppliers. For example, if he always answers, ‘I will always take rationality,’ what if a person doesn’t show up in a company? We had this happen a couple times recently. One of the managers says, ‘You can’t just show up at 12 o’clock.’ We couldn’t find the person. My guide has always been there must be something tremendous. You can’t just let people go; you have to leave them at least three days. Some manager says, ‘He’s new; he shouldn’t be doing things like this.’ Well, you hired him; is he capable of doing it?
Actually, his father just died. You understand this person is very rational. I’m trying to say, ‘I understand you’re rationale, but we’re family. Let’s make sure we understand the reasons behind it.’ On Monday, he called us back and explained about his father, and we said, ‘OK, no problem.’
Q. How do you balance rational decision-making with a family culture?
Consistency. Otherwise, you’re getting a lawsuit. With me being a European lawyer, the one thing they always told me is just make sure you’re consistent.
For example, for the issue with people not showing up, as long as you’re consistent and you ask and you give people the leeway not because you just overslept or went to a party and if they can show it, then that means consistency, and that is good.
Q. How do you manage employees who are having trouble?
Lately, a manager was promoted and I said, ‘Look, I think you need an assistant,’ and they wouldn’t do it. ‘No, no, I can do it myself.’ A month later, I said, ‘I understand you don’t want an assistant, but you’re going to get one.’ I almost had to force the person.
Sometimes, people are so afraid of losing control. When you perform a job, it’s 100 percent. But if you delegate, you need to be happy if that person does it 85 percent the way you’re doing it. Don’t ever expect anybody who you delegate [to] to do 100 percent. It’s just not possible.
HOW TO REACH: Peleman Industries Inc., (877) 246-3669 or www.peleman.com