René M. Diaz Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007
After just three weeks on the job, while at the company’s Christmas party, one of René M. Diaz’s employees decided to tell him everything that was wrong with Diaz Foods. Diaz, chairman and CEO of the company, encouraged the employee to meet with the human resources manager, but before the meeting, Diaz gave the manager instructions — if the situation wasn’t salvageable, fire the employee. So when the man came in, he refused to talk and complained that he was supposed to meet with the man in charge, so the HR manager simply replied, “Well, the man in charge told this woman in charge that you’re fired.” Diaz doesn’t want bad apples in his $130 million food wholesale company, so he deals with them quickly if they aren’t a good fit with his company. Smart Business spoke with Diaz about how he identifies people with “chispa,” the Spanish word for “spark,” and why it’s so important to his company.

Get the right people. You can have all the capital in the world, but if you don’t have the right people, you’re not going to succeed. If you have the right people, you can get dog food and sell it as caviar. If you have the wrong people, you could have Louis Vuitton bags, and you couldn’t sell them.

In Spanish, it’s called chispa — spark. They have to have it in their eye. They have to have it when they speak, but it has to be a true chispa.

You interview people, and they’re like, ‘I want to come work for you, and I’ll work eight days a week, 30 hours a day, and I’ll live, breathe your company, and I can raise your sales 50 percent.’ That is false chispa. He’s creating a spark because he’s doing an interview.

The spark is more in the want. You can see it when they speak because they’re not trying to prove themselves to you in a 10-minute interview. You can see it in the way they dress, the way they look, the way they handle themselves. You can come in a hand-me-down suit, but you tied your tie properly, you sat up straight in the chair. You at least cleaned your shoes.

If someone gets here late and got stuck in traffic, folks say, ‘Oh, he doesn’t care.’ You have kids at home, you get delayed, your car breaks down. Those things can happen.

It’s more personality. How they look at you, how they speak, their mannerisms. Are they polite? Do they say thank you? That all matters.

Don’t be fooled by resumes. Resumes do not impress me. I’ve seen people — master’s here and 10 different colleges, and you interview them, and they have no social skills. They don’t look you straight in the eye when they talk to you. They don’t sit up upright.

They’re not proud of who they are. They’re not self-confident, and you can see that when you talk to people. Then I hire some kid who had to leave high school to support his family, and he impresses the hell out of me, and he gives me a wow.

That’s what I look at. Do you demand more of yourself? Do you demand more of what you are able to contribute from your abilities? A kid who didn’t finish high school has limitations to a certain amount, but those limitations to them don’t exist, and they exceed those limitations, and that’s the spirit I’m looking for — that nothing holds them back.

Do things yourself. If something’s small, like faxes or return this person’s call, it is who can do it the fastest. If it’s going to take me longer to tell my assistant to call Kristy and tell her I can’t make the conference call, and she’s like ‘Who’s Kristy?’ ‘Kristy works for Smart Business. She’s an associate editor — here’s her number.’ It’s faster for me to pick up the phone and call you.

Whoever’s going to do that for me, they have work to do as well. If it’s going to take me five minutes to explain, and I’m going to take that five minutes of their time, and they still have to make the call, it would have been more efficient for the company if I had just done it myself.

Delegate. If I get calls from folks who want to buy my company, I say nicely, ‘You need to speak with my CFO,’ and they say, ‘Well, we only talk to owners.’ I go, ‘No. My CFO has access to everything. If you want to talk financial stuff, you talk to my CFO,’ and that’s how I delegate.

If it’s not my responsibility, it’s delegated to a manager. Period. I keep a list of the tasks by managers in a public folder. They have access to that folder — they can read it, they can copy it, but they cannot amend or delete it.

I’ll add the task, I’ll e-mail her the task so she knows that that’s an expectation of mine, and I put a start date and a due date. Then they get back to me and tell me whether that’s reasonable or not. I know everyone’s busy, but I don’t know what you’re working on. I’m flexible on that stuff.

Reorganize periodically. Let’s assume we’re starting from scratch. Forget people. Forget budgets. Create an organizational chart for me that would meet your needs today. Then forecast your needs for the next 12 months, then a soft scenario for 24 months.

In the reorg, we’ve created a list of requirements before we look at who’s going to fill that box. Then we say, ‘(She) had that job before — that was her title. Look at the job now. Does she fit that job? If she does, is she willing to do it?’

One of my buyers, when I analyzed what she was doing, she was creating reports for sales. She was analyzing data, so I moved her into my team, and she’s our business analyst. It’s not different. It’s just sometimes the title, over the years, has remained the same, but your duties have changed, so you’re really doing something different than what your title calls for.

It makes us refocus on our business at a micro level rather than a macro level. It’s not a lot of changes, but one or two little boxes you move around makes a huge impact. When you’re growing 30 percent a year, you have to redefine yourself every 12 months. If not, you’re fooling yourself.

HOW TO REACH: Diaz Foods, (800) 394-4639 or