Vision and passion Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007

When Tom Wood took control of Floor Coverings International, the company was in its eighth straight year of declining revenue.

It had gone from a peak of $60 million in 1996 to $22 million in 2004, when Wood took the reins as president and CEO. After a difficult restructuring period, Floor Coverings is back on track, with two straight years of double-digit growth and 2006 revenue of $26 million. The turnaround is the result Wood’s complete strategic review of the industry, the company and its customers. “We took a good, hard look at our own organization, and we came out of that realizing there wasn’t a whole lot we did well,” Wood says.

Smart Business spoke with Wood about how a CEO’s vision and passion can spark a company turnaround.

Q: What skills does a successful leader need?

Vision and clarity of direction are critical. I’m in several groups with other presidents and CEOs. You look around the table and you can see people who don’t have the vision for their organization.

They can’t see what their next move is going to be on the chessboard. And I don’t mean the next move they’re going to make; I’m talking about the move they’re going to have to make next year or the year after.

Q: How do you train yourself to have that vision?

One thing I had to learn as I moved into senior management is that it is egotistical to think you can do it all yourself ... thinking you know so much you don’t need the influence of others.

Being open to coaching is important — not informal coaching, but some sort of regular coaching. The funny thing is, you look around the business world and there are not a lot of people who utilize coaches to reach their own peak performance. But certainly in the athletic world, there is no athlete in the world who does not have a coach, or a team of coaches.

For example, I’m an avid tennis player. I joke with my wife and say, ‘It’s time for me to go see the swing doctor.’ Now, how often do you hear a business leader say, ‘I’m working on a tough problem, I’m going to see my business doctor.’ It could be somebody who doesn’t necessarily know the answer, but they can help coach you to work through it.

I don’t make $18 million like Barry Bonds does, and he’s not too proud to go out and grab a coach or two.

Q: What do you look for in an employee?

People who are desirous of making a difference in an organization — and that difference is not just doing someone else’s work. The difference really comes from contributing from the ground up — from the germination of the idea all the way through to the execution of tactics in the field.

The essence and core of leadership is being able to get results through other people. You can’t grow your organization if you’re depending on yourself to make all the key decisions and do all the hard work.

I do my best leadership when I have passion and inspiration for our business. Make sure your key employees can share in that vision and have that burning passion for whatever it is that they’re doing.

Q: How do you find those people?

We tend to do better through word of mouth and referrals. You want your people to be empowered, and you need people who have a desire to be empowered to make a difference in your organization.

But it’s a fine line between being empowered and being a maverick. If we can select our people from a known source in some way, that helps us find people who share a passion in our vision, versus coming in as a maverick — a bull in a china shop just looking to get things done.

Q: How do you deal with a bad decision?

Try to dig into why the wrong decision-making process was made. If it was an informed decision, it’s hard for me to come down on somebody, to make somebody pay for it. Everybody makes mistakes. You need to know what led up to the mistake.

If you went through the decision-making process properly and you made the decision, you probably would have built a protective buffer around the decision. So if it was the wrong decision, you’re able to catch it and correct it and change the direction before the ramifications grow too great.

Q: How do you prevent making bad decisions?

You have to build measurements to track the progress from an early and ongoing basis. It’s critical, because what gets measured is able to be managed.

As long as you’re measuring it, you can enact some sort of corrective behavior if it was the wrong decision, before it dramatically impacts people or events.

HOW TO REACH: Floor Coverings International, (770) 874-7600 or www.floorcoveringsinternational.com