Jim Geiger Featured

8:00pm EDT September 18, 2006
 A couple of years ago Jim Geiger confronted a coworker 15 years his senior. Geiger told the coworker that although he had decided to trust and learn from him, their relationship had become a one-way street. The coworker said, “You can’t teach this old dog new tricks,” and Geiger told him it was a shame he had decided to stop learning. A few weeks later, the two stopped working together. From that experience, Geiger learned that when it comes to running a successful business, one must always be willing to learn from others and improve. Today, as chairman and CEO of CBeyond Inc., a VoIP provider, Geiger maintains that two-way street with employees, building trust to the point that he says in touch with them and continues to advise them long after they leave the company. Smart Business spoke with Geiger about how he surrounds himself with 708 intellectually curious people and manages his $151 million company.

Build trust by showing commitment.
If you’ve ever worked someplace where you didn’t think the person you worked for was committed to you, a level of insecurity can develop.

And some people like to prey on that, and I don’t. (It’s) human nature, we get more out of people when we believe people are committed to us and we’re committed to them.

Create a positive environment when people feel like they can make a mistake, and be honest and open about it, and learn from it.

I don’t like feeling insecure, and I don’t like feeling that I’m not being given the opportunity to succeed. As long as you’re consistent with that, people know they can come to you with problems and concerns, and you won’t use that vulnerability against them.

Once you’ve built trust, don’t destroy it.
Trust takes a ton of time to build, and it takes a second to tear down. Be vigilant that you don’t ever find yourself in one of those moments where you’re tearing down trust.

It takes a long time. That consistency is important over time. It creates a level of responsibility. I feel a lot of pressure to do my job well because I know how important it is for the people that work for us.

They pay their mortgages and student loans and car payments. Their lives are deeply affected by how well or how poorly I do my job. It’s keeping that sense of responsibility.

The day you don’t want it, you should take yourself out.

Create a service culture.
Part of my role as a leader is to teach people, to coach them and to inspire them. One of the (things you learn) is how much more you get out of the service you do for people than they get from your services.

It’s generally a positive emotion surrounding that. That positive emotion, that relationship that’s created, all flows into work as well. There are times when each of us needs propping up, and the team rallies around to help a person with a particular challenge.

It has to be sincere. It’s something that needs to flow from the top if you want to try and create that culture. You need to surround yourself with people that share that interest.

Not everybody here does, but there’s a nucleus of folks that likes to give back of their time and talent, and treasure and experience it. Experience it first, and then inspire it next.

It’s viral. Hands On Atlanta (which serves more than 400 community-based agencies and schools) has a big annual thing, and then the subgroups participate in other programs through the year. People come out once and volunteer their time and find themselves becoming addicted to it. They become repeat offenders.

We give folks eight hours paid time off (each year). We’re fairly flexible for people that have a passion about one of the community projects.

Involve employees in the company.
If you’re involved, then you’re not a victim. If you want to be cynical over in the corner and take cheap shots, you won’t be welcome for long.

If you have an opinion, and you’re passionate about it, and you believe there’s a direction and a cause inside, whether I agree with you or not, I respect you. We allow people that ability to voice it. I look for it.

I like to be told where I’m wrong, and I like to be told where I’m right.

Listen more.
Listen to your customers and listen to your employees, and do what they tell you. It’s pretty simple. I don’t know everything, and the day I think I do, somebody should show me the door.

Our best ideas come from our customers and employees. As long as we continue to listen and continue to not have pride in the things that executives thought of and truly serve our customers and employees, we’ll continue to be successful.

Use your imagination.
What’s lost on folks is that there’s a tremendous amount of creativity that’s required for growing a business. A lot of people get married to the status quo, and the only constant is change. If you don’t have that kind of risk profile, you’re not going to be in a high-growth company.

People around me, at the executive level, feed on change. If we’re not changing something, then we’re not doing our jobs.

At times, it’s obvious you need to make some change, and at times, it’s not. If you’re open and honest and you’ve built that kind of credibility and capital with your constituents, then they give you grace. They trust you.

Buy size 12s instead of size 5s.
Somebody once told me that their idea of managing growth was like buying shoes for their children. If the kid measured a size 5, they bought a size 7.

My strategy for managing growth is to buy that kid a size 12. I’ve brought in people and surrounded myself with people who have had bigger jobs, more responsibility, a greater scope and scale than what I give them.

Always have capital and know your business. Get it when you don’t need it. And treat it like your own. There’s nothing that substitutes for a track record when you need more capital and have an understanding of your business.

When starting a business or trying to raise more capital, if you can’t talk about your business with a dry erase marker next to a whiteboard — if you need a PowerPoint (presentation) to talk about your business — you’re in trouble. Have a really good understanding of the fundamental metrics that drive your business and have some ability to articulate that clearly.

HOW TO REACH: CBeyond Inc., www.cbeyond.net